• “I Am Afraid of Telling You This, Lest You’d Be Scared Shitless!”: The Myth of Secrecy and the Study of the Esoteric Traditions of Bengal

      Carola Erika Lorea (MDPI AG, 2018-05-01)
      As the verse chosen as a title for this article emblematically shows, esoteric movements have consistently used secrecy as a literary topos in their oral and written cultural expressions for a number of purposes. Scholars of South Asian religions, especially those in field of Tantric studies, have been scrutinizing for decades the need for secretive doctrines and a secret code-language (sandhyā bhāṣā), mostly interrogating textual sources and neglecting the contemporary experience and exegetical authority of living lineages. In this paper, I firstly address ethical and epistemological problems in the study of esoteric religious movements in order to propose innovative methodological strategies. Then, I offer numerous examples drawn from extensive field-work and in-depth literary study of contemporary esoteric lineages of West Bengal (India) and Bangladesh, in order to discuss the local discourse on secrecy. Finally, I review previously assumed notions on secrecy in South Asian religions, and I suggest to take into serious consideration local perspectives on the accessibility of esoteric knowledge, leading to a more nuanced idea of secrecy, constantly subjected to temporal and situational negotiations between silence and disclosure.
    • ‘I Am an African’

      Benson Ohihon Igboin (MDPI AG, 2021-08-01)
      The question, who is an African? in the context of understanding African identity has biological, historical, cultural, religious, political, racial, linguistic, social, philosophical, and even geographical colourations. Scholars as well as commentators have continued to grapple with it as it has assumed a syncretistic or intersectional characterisation. The same applies to, “what is Africa?” because of the defined Western construct of its geography. This foray of concepts appears to be captured in ‘I am an African’, a treatise that exudes the <i>telos</i> of African past, present and the unwavering hope that the future of Africans and Africa is great in spite of the cynicism and loss of faith that the present seems to have foisted on the minds of many an African. Through a critical analysis, it is argued that African religion has a value that is capable of resolving the contentious identity crisis of an African.
    • “I Am Not Good at Any of This.” Playing with Homoeroticism in <i>The Arabian Nights</i>

      Frank G. Bosman (MDPI AG, 2021-06-01)
      The story collection known in the West as <i>The Arabian Nights</i> or <i>One Thousand and One Nights</i>, is famous, among other things, for its erotic playfulness. This eroticism was (and is) one of the key reasons for its continuous popularity after Antoine Galland’s French translation in 1704. <i>The Arabian Nights</i> includes, besides traditional, heterosexual acts, play, and desires, examples of homoerotic playfulness—even though we must tread lightly when using such Western concepts with an oriental text body such as this one. The homoerotic playfulness of <i>The Arabian Nights</i> is the subject of this article. By making use of a text-immanent analysis of two of the <i>Nights’</i> stories—of Qamar and Budûr and of Alî Shâr and Zumurrud—the author of this article focuses on the reversal of common gender roles, acts of cross-dressing, and, of course, homoerotic play. He will argue that these stories provide a narrative safe environment in which the reader is encouraged to “experiment” with non-normative sexual and gender orientations, leaving the dominant status quo effectively and ultimately unchallenged, thus preventing the (self-proclaimed) defenders of that status quo from feeling threatened enough to actively counter-act the experiment.
    • “I Discovered I Love to Pray Alone Too”: Pluralist Muslim Women’s Approaches to Practicing Islam during and after Ramadan 2020

      Anna Piela; Joanna Krotofil (MDPI AG, 2021-09-01)
      Public health guidelines implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic have changed the way many people practice religion. In the realm of Islam, practices from the margins—attending online mosques and prayer groups, or praying alone—suddenly became commonplace. This paper addresses the question: What religious processes have become more evident among pluralist Muslim women during the pandemic? Based on 34 open-ended online surveys completed by pluralist Muslim women living chiefly in the USA and the UK, our analysis evidences the existence of four narratives that reflect fluctuations in the intensity and type of religious practice. The first and most prominent narrative in our dataset conveys enthusiastic embrace of social-distanced practices; the second describes a profound sense of aberration impossible to overcome in spiritual ways. The third highlights that for some Muslims, the pandemic brought no changes, as they continued to be isolated from their communities. The fourth is focused on an affirmation of a “remote” sociality experienced online. While some respondents acknowledge the increased individuation in their religious practice, they also find fulfilment in collective, if transformed, sociality. The changes in social interaction have led to a re-evaluation of salient aspects of their religious identity or, alternatively, highlighted longstanding modalities of exclusion.
    • “I Feel as Though I’m Doing the Job of the Imam for Them”: Considering ‘Tactical’ Muslim Leadership Through the Case of ‘Muslim RE Teachers’

      Matthew Vince (MDPI AG, 2019-07-01)
      Although Muslim leadership in Britain has long been the focus of scholarly attention, discussion has tended to prioritise “official” Muslim leaders (Birt 2006; Geaves 2008; Ahmad and Evergeti 2010). However, what constitutes a “Muslim leader” is increasingly contested, revealing instead a diversity of authoritative ‘claim makers’ and representative positions (Jones et al. 2015). These contestations were a recurring theme throughout the Leadership, Authority and Representation in British Muslim Communities conference (Gilliat-Ray and Timol 2019). Building upon these debates, this article considers how Muslim teachers can be considered Muslim leaders within their local contexts. This paper draws on qualitative research with 21 ‘Muslim RE teachers’ across England to consider how their experience and positioning as ‘role models’ for Muslim and non-Muslim pupils brought considerable influence to represent Muslims, affect school policy and practice, and shape “official” Islamic discourses in their local communities. I argue that their experience reflects what can be considered as ‘Muslim leadership’ on the broader scholarly terrain, but as a form of ‘tactical’ Muslim leadership by virtue of existing within the confines of “secular” institutions. As such, this article concludes by calling for the recognition of Muslim leadership beyond national, ‘strategic’ forms to more ‘tactical’, contextually bounded cases.
    • “I Get Peace:” Gender and Religious Life in a Delhi Gurdwara

      Kamal Arora (MDPI AG, 2020-03-01)
      In October and November of 1984, after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, approximately 3500 Sikh men were killed in Delhi, India. Many of the survivors—Sikh widows and their kin—were relocated thereafter to the “Widow Colony”, also known as Tilak Vihar, within the boundary of Tilak Nagar in West Delhi, as a means of rehabilitation and compensation. Within this colony lies the Shaheedganj Gurdwara, frequented by widows and their families. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, I explore the intersections between violence, widowhood, and gendered religious practice in this place of worship. Memories of violence and experiences of widowhood inform and intersect with embodied religious practices in this place. I argue that the gurdwara is primarily a female place; although male-administered, it is a place that, through women’s practices, becomes a gendered counterpublic, allowing women a place to socialize and heal in an area where there is little public space for women to gather. The gurdwara has been re-appropriated away from formal religious practice by these widows, functioning as a place that enables the subversive exchange of local knowledges and viewpoints and a repository of shared experiences that reifies and reclaims gendered loss.
    • I Have Faith in Thee, Lord: Criticism of Religion and Child Abuse in the Video Game the Binding of Isaac

      Frank G. Bosman; Archibald L. H. M. van Wieringen (MDPI AG, 2018-04-01)
      The game The Binding of Isaac is an excellent example of a game that incorporates criticism of religion. Isaac is a roguelike dungeon crawler with randomly generated dungeons. Both from the perspective of narrative and of game design, McMillen built The Binding of Isaac around the Biblical story of Genesis 22:1-19, which has the same name in Jewish and Christian tradition, but he placed it in a modern-day setting in which a young boy is endangered by a mentally disturbed mother who hears “voices from above” that instruct her to sacrifice her only child. Multiple critical references to Christianity can be found in addition to the narrative: hostile embodiments of the seven deadly sins, rosaries, Bibles, and crucifixes, and unlockable characters, such as Mary Magdalene, Judas Iscariot, Samson, and Cain, who are all depicted negatively in both Jewish and Christian traditions. McMillen’s inspiration came from his own experiences with his family, which was made up of both Catholics and born-again Christians. The game describes both the dark creativity and the mental and physical abuse associated with religion. In this article, we analyse the narrative of The Binding of Isaac by performing an intertextual comparison with the Biblical narrative of Genesis 22:1-19. We then analyse the three-fold narrative structure of the game which enhances and nuances the criticism the game directs at religion.
    • “I Heard the Voice. I Felt the Presence”: Prayer, Health and Implications for Clinical Practice

      Mary Rute Gomes Esperandio; Kevin L. Ladd (MDPI AG, 2015-06-01)
      Research concerning the relation between physical health and prayer typically employs an outcome oriented paradigm and results are inconsistent. This is not surprising since prayer per se is not governed by physiological principles. More revealing and logically compelling, but more rare, is literature examining health and prayer from the perspective of the participants. The present study examines the health–prayer experience of 104 Christians in the United States. Data were collected through recorded video interviews and analyzed by means of content analysis. Results show that prayer is used as a context nuanced spiritual tool for: dealing with physical suffering (spiritual-religious coping); sustaining hope and spirituality via a sacred dimension; personal empowerment; self-transcendence. These findings demonstrate that practitioners primarily engage prayer at a spiritual rather than a physical level, underscoring the limitations of a biomedical or “Complementary and Alternative Medicine” perspective that conceptualizes prayer as a mechanism for intentionally improving physical health. In clinical practice, regarding the medical, psychotherapeutic, or pastoral, the challenge is to understand prayer through the framework of the practitioner, in order to affirm its potential in healthcare processes.
    • “I knew him, Horatio”: Shakespeare’s Beliefs, Early Textual Editing, and Nineteenth-Century Phrenology

      Bryan Adams Hampton (MDPI AG, 2019-03-01)
      As Hamlet gazes into Yorick’s skull, he reassembles the quirks of the jester’s personhood and also imagines a self that he used to be, in relation to Yorick. Partially through the lens of Hamlet, characterized by A.C. Bradley as Shakespeare’s most “religious” play, this essay interrogates how several eighteenth-century textual editors, and some nineteenth-century scholars and popular admirers, imagine and construct Shakespeare’s beliefs: the first, through their efforts to reassemble the textual “bones” of Shakespeare’s works; and the second, through the rising pseudoscience of phrenology, operating in the background in the national debate to exhume and examine Shakespeare’s skull.
    • “I Love It When You Play that Holy Ghost Chord”: Sounding Sacramentality in the Black Gospel Tradition

      Braxton D. Shelley (MDPI AG, 2020-09-01)
      This essay argues that the distinctive aesthetic practices of many African American Christian congregations, indexed by the phrase “the Black gospel tradition”, are shaped by a sacramentality of sound. I contend that the role music routinely plays in the experience of the holy uncovers sanctity in the sound itself, enabling it to function as a medium of interworldly exchange. As divine power takes an audible form, the faith that “comes by hearing” is confirmed by religious feeling—both individual and collective. This sacramentality of sound is buttressed by beliefs about the enduring efficacy of divine speech, convictions that motivate the intensive character of gospel’s songs, sermons, and shouts. The essay begins with a worship service from Chicago, Illinois’ Greater Harvest Missionary Baptist Church, an occasion in which the musical accompaniment for holy dancing brought sound’s sacramental function into particularly clear relief. In the essay’s second section, I turn to the live recording of Richard Smallwood’s “Hebrews 11”, a recording that accents the creative power of both divine speech and faithful utterances, showing how reverence for “the word of God” inspires the veneration of musical sound. In the article’s final move, I show how both of the aforementioned performances articulate a sacramental theology of sound—the conviction that sound’s invisible force brings spiritual power to bear on the material world.
    • “I Will Show You My Faith by My Works”: Addressing the Nexus between Philosophical Theodicy and Human Suffering and Loss in Contexts of ‘Natural’ Disaster

      Roger Philip Abbott (MDPI AG, 2019-03-01)
      As a practical theologian and researcher in the field of ‘natural’ disasters, as well as being a disaster responder chaplain, I am often confronted by, and have to confront, the nexus between theology/philosophy and “real life„ in extremely traumatic contexts. The extreme suffering that is often the consequence of catastrophic natural disasters warrants solutions that can help vulnerable populations recover and adapt to live safely with natural hazards. For many practice-based responders, speculative theological/philosophical reflections around situations that are often human-caused seem predominantly vacuous exercises, potentially diverting attention away from the empiricism of causal human agency. In this article, I explore a middle ground involving a nuanced methodological approach to theodicy that is practical but no less intellectually demanding, that is theological more than philosophical, practical more than theoretical; a middle ground that also takes seriously the human culpability as causal for the human, and some would say the divine, suffering from disasters. I will include in this exploration my ethnographic fieldwork following the catastrophic earthquake to hit the Caribbean nation of Haiti in 2010.
    • Ibn Gabirol and Judah ha-Levi’s Usage of Dialogue: The Role of the Disciple in <i>Fons Vitae</i> and that of the King in <i>Kitāb al-Khazarī</i>

      Aviram Ravitsky (MDPI AG, 2019-09-01)
      The literary framework of Solomon Ibn Gabirol’s <i>Fons Vitae</i> is a conversation between a master and a disciple. In this article, the nature of the disciple’s questions will be analyzed in order to explain the advantages of the dialogical process in Ibn Gabirol’s thought. The literary framework of Judah ha-Levi’s <i>Kitāb al-Khazarī</i> is similar to that of <i>Fons Vitae</i>. Ha-Levi’s composition is built as a conversation that allegedly took place between the king of the Khazars and a Jewish scholar (<i>ḥaver</i>). Analysis of the king’s responses to the ḥaver shows that the king did not fully understand the <i>ḥaver</i>’s lessons, in which the deep meaning of Judaism is taught. In this article, the king’s responses will be analyzed and, likewise, the question of Judah ha-Levi’s intention in using this literary sophistication. As is shown in this article both famous Andalusian poets and thinkers, R. Judah ha-Levi and R. Solomon Ibn Gabirol, masters of linguistic phrasing and style, used the dialogical form not only as an opportunity to present their world views, but also as a method by which to critique their own philosophies.
    • Ibn Gabirol and Judah ha-Levi’s Usage of Dialogue: The Role of the Disciple in Fons Vitae and that of the King in Kitāb al-Khazarī

      Aviram Ravitsky (MDPI AG, 2019-09-01)
      The literary framework of Solomon Ibn Gabirol’s Fons Vitae is a conversation between a master and a disciple. In this article, the nature of the disciple’s questions will be analyzed in order to explain the advantages of the dialogical process in Ibn Gabirol’s thought. The literary framework of Judah ha-Levi’s Kitāb al-Khazarī is similar to that of Fons Vitae. Ha-Levi’s composition is built as a conversation that allegedly took place between the king of the Khazars and a Jewish scholar (ḥaver). Analysis of the king’s responses to the ḥaver shows that the king did not fully understand the ḥaver’s lessons, in which the deep meaning of Judaism is taught. In this article, the king’s responses will be analyzed and, likewise, the question of Judah ha-Levi’s intention in using this literary sophistication. As is shown in this article both famous Andalusian poets and thinkers, R. Judah ha-Levi and R. Solomon Ibn Gabirol, masters of linguistic phrasing and style, used the dialogical form not only as an opportunity to present their world views, but also as a method by which to critique their own philosophies.
    • Ibn ʿArabī’s Metaphysics in the Context of Andalusian Mysticism: Some Akbarian Concepts in the Light of Ibn Masarra and Ibn Barrajān

      Gracia López-Anguita (MDPI AG, 2021-01-01)
      The aim of this article is to trace the origins of some of the key concepts of Ibn Arabi’s metaphysics and cosmology in earlier Andalusian Sufi masters. Within the context of the seminal works on Ibn Arabi’s cosmology and metaphysics produced from the second half of the 20th century onwards and through a comparison of texts by the Sufi masters Ibn Masarra and Ibn Barrajān, we will see which elements are taken from previous sources and how they are transformed or re-interpreted by Ibn ʿArabī in a philosophical-mystical system that would become the point of reference for the later Eastern and Western Sufi tradition.
    • Icons of Just Is: Justice, Suffering, and the Artwork of Samuel Bak

      Gary A. Phillips (MDPI AG, 2017-06-01)
      This paper examines select paintings by Holocaust survivor and painter Samuel Bak from his recent Just Is series. The essay explores ways Bak’s art bears witness to suffering. He creatively interrogates and reanimates the iconic figure of Lady Justice and the biblical principle of the lex talionis (“eye for an eye”) in order to fashion alternative icons fit for an age of atrocity and loss. Bak’s artwork gives visual expression to Theodor Adorno’s view of the precariousness of art after Auschwitz. It is art’s responsibility to attend to the burden of real suffering experiences (the burden of the empirical) and to think in contradictions, which renders art both adequate and inadequate in standing up against the injustice of other’s suffering. Through inventive juxtaposition of secular and sacred symbols, Bak displays the paradox of representation after the Holocaust and art’s precarious responsibility giving voice to suffering. Bak fashions visual spaces in which barbarity and beauty coincide and collide. He invites viewers into this space and into dialogue about justice’s standing and promises. Do Bak's remade icons of Just Is lament a permanent loss of justice and peace, or do they point tentatively to possibilities of life lived in a damaged world with an alternative Just Is? Bak’s artwork prompts such vexing questions for his viewers to contemplate and leaves them to decide what must be done.
    • Identifying Ingrained Historical Cognitive Biases Influencing Contemporary Pastoral Responses Depriving Suicide-Bereaved People of Essential Protective Factors

      Astrid Staley (MDPI AG, 2017-12-01)
      (1) Background: Historically and collectively, the Church has not responded to suicide-bereaved people with compassion, denying pastoral care in the form of spiritual, emotional, and practical support, considered key protective factors along with community support in facilitating funeral rite for their loved one in their deepest, darkest, hour of need, thereby placing them at risk to disenfranchised grief. (2) Aims: The study explores the presence of historical ingrained cognitive biases in contemporary pastoral responses from caregivers within Evangelical and Pentecostal streams. (3) Methods: Caregivers were provided with training offering greater understanding of the multifarious issues involved in the life of a person who has died by suicide and challenges faced by the bereaved. Responses to pre-workshop self-contemplating surveys based on workshop objectives were then compared to post-workshop survey responses of participant’s subjective evaluation of knowledge and skills gained through information presented. (4) Results: Post-workshop survey data revealed healthy shifts in historically ingrained cognitive biases; (5) Conclusions: These shifts provide the foundation for future pastoral encounters to offer spiritual, emotional, and practical support, considered key protective factors for those bereaved by suicide.
    • Identity Encounters in Public Spaces—Military Service as a Legally Binding Public Space. The Case of Women’s Singing in the Israel Defense Forces

      Shani Umiel-Feldman (MDPI AG, 2020-03-01)
      The term ‘Public Sphere’ is used to distinguish it from the private. Here, we will use the term ‘Public Spaces’ to distinguish between various types of public spheres, differing from one another not only in their controlling identity, but also in the level of obligation to be in them and the extent in which they demand obedience from their participants. The new typology proposed in this paper conceptualizes the Israel Defense Forces [IDF] as a legally binding Public Space, using the case study of the Jewish religious law prohibiting Orthodox men to listen to a woman’s singing voice. This prohibition has sparked a strong public controversy and ongoing clashes between the army and religion. The case study illustrates a wide range of confrontations over the identity of the IDF’s space. While examining similar cases in other armies around the world, the paper presents a model explaining the terms and conditions for disputes on the nature of Public Spaces around the world, and when to expect confrontations between identities in different Public Spaces. Finally, the paper attempts to predict the extent and scope of such confrontations, on four dimensions: (a) The level of obligation to be in the Public Space; (b) the level of greediness of the Public Space; (c) the level of heterogeneity of identities within the Public Space; and (d) the level of personal identity greediness of persons and groups whose identity differs from the hegemonic identity in the public space.
    • Identity, Social Mobility, and Trauma: Post-Conflict Educational Realities for Survivors of the Rohingya Genocide

      Naved Bakali; Shujaat Wasty (MDPI AG, 2020-05-01)
      The Rohingya refugee crisis is a humanitarian disaster with over 740,000 Rohingya leaving their homes in Rakhine State, Myanmar, since August 2017. In the process of this mass exodus, thousands have been brutally murdered and terrorized through a campaign of physical attacks by the Myanmar state including murder, beatings and mutilations; mass gang rape and sexual slavery of women and girls; and the burning of entire villages. The victims have been men, women, and children who were targeted because they belonged to a Muslim minority ethnic group. The crisis has been recognized as genocide by officials from several countries including Canada, France, Gambia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, and Turkey. Furthermore, a recent ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to take all necessary measures to prevent the genocide of the Rohingya. The genocide of the Rohingya has resulted in a massive number of refugees fleeing to Bangladesh, with 1.1 million of an estimated 2.4 million Rohingya across the world currently encamped there. This crisis has led to questions about how the basic needs of these refugees are being met and if there is any possibility for a life beyond the refugee camps through educational programming. This study explores the educational realities of Rohingya refugees through a process of open-ended and semi-structured interviews of aid workers and educators working in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Through examining the educational programming in these camps, this article aims to better understand the educational opportunities for social mobility, identity preservation, and the availability of religious instruction to the Rohingya. The findings of this study suggest that religious instruction centers may serve to improve gender- based educational gaps for adolescent Rohingya women.
    • “If Only I Could Start All over…” A Case Study of Spiritual Care Provision to a Patient with a Psychiatric Disorder Requesting Physician-Assisted Dying in The Netherlands

      Carmen Schuhmann; Marianne C. Snijdewind; Lisa van Duijvenbooden; Geert E. Smid (MDPI AG, 2021-08-01)
      In a growing number of countries, legislation permits physicians—under strict conditions—to grant a request for physician-assisted dying (PAD). Legally allowing for the possibility of granting such a request is in accordance with central humanistic values such as respect for autonomy and self-determination. The Netherlands is one of few countries where severe suffering from a psychiatric illness qualifies as a ground for a request for PAD. Central in this article is a case description of spiritual care provision in the Netherlands by a humanist healthcare chaplain to a patient requesting PAD because of psychiatric suffering. We discuss what we may learn from the case description about how spiritual caregivers may support patients who express a wish to die, and about their contribution to the care for patients with a psychiatric disorder who request PAD.
    • Ifa Fuyū’s Search for Okinawan-Japanese Identity

      Masato Ishida (MDPI AG, 2018-06-01)
      This paper focuses on the crucial role played by Ifa Fuyū, the “father of Okinawan studies,” in articulating ideas related to Okinawan-Japanese identity. Starting with a brief overview of Ifa’s life and work, especially his pioneering work in Ryukyuan linguistics, the author observes how Ifa’s progressive and reformist perspective shapes his discourse on religion, language, and history. The author then moves into analyzing a recently discovered wartime article that Ifa wrote in 1945, when he learned in Tokyo that the battle of Okinawa broke out between Japan and the U.S. Ifa’s controversial article shows how a strong sense of nationalistic identity was imposed upon Okinawans, on the one hand, while also revealing Ifa’s intention to fight prejudice toward Okinawans, on the other. This leads to the broader context of Japan’s emergence as a “nation state.” Problematizing the question of identity, the author argues that alternative histories of Japan should be taken into account for its proper understanding. Comparing Ifa’s view with historian Amino Yoshihiko’s thesis on Japan and modernization, the author envisions how identity can be seen as a growing network of plural identities rather than an abstractly imagined monolithic identity.