the most appropriate usage of the term ‘religious conversion’ seems to be – at best – as a descriptor of certain historical attempts to pursue a particular strategy of Christianisation, says Dr Michael Marten. In this form it is best put behind us, but it raises important questions about the contested nature of Christianity and its mission(s).
It has been a momentous twelve months in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and in relation to developments popularly dubbed the 'Arab Spring' or (perhaps more helpfully) the 'Arab Awakening'. Time, we think, to stop for a moment and take stock.
A good RE syllabus would allow young people to explore, without either naivety or unwarranted suspicion, how the world might look from different perspectives and to learn to think critically and with minds open to the possibilities as well as to the limitations and dangers of different political and cultural norms, says Alison Jasper. But how far the kind of organisations sponsoring the government's Free Schools is another question, she acknowledges.
The spread of totalising, ostensibly rational strategic power through 'human resources management' and 'the performative aboslute', together with the imposition of complete transparency and the denial of trust, is a huge threat to humanity, says Professor Richard H. Roberts, looking back to, and beyond, Donna Haraway's feminist cyborg utopianism twenty years ago.
The term 'minorities', when applied to Christian and other communities in the Middle East, opens up a range of contradictory emotions and responses, says Dr Harry Hagopian. But perhaps there could be a greater alliance of purposes among those who do and do not use this term, distinguishing a definition that allows for a range of legal and political remedies for those involved, while distancing it from its more disparaging, negative, intimidating and unhelpful resonances?
An apparently religious marker is frequently used to break down populations into ‘Muslims’ and ‘others’, with the ‘others’ often being called, more charitably, ‘the minorities’ of the Middle East, says Dr Michael Marten from the University of Stirling. There are many problems with this kind of designation, he suggests: primarily that it feeds into binary understandings of the world exemplified by the misleading ‘clash of civilisations‘ model.
Classifying communities and their practices and values as ‘religious’ often has the effect of marginalising them from the mainstream of public debates on justice and the proper ends of the good life, says scholar Timothy Fitzgerald. Such classification has the effect of clothing secular reason with the misleading aura of neutral objectivity, he suggests.
The recent disturbances in England show that fundamental issues concerning the legitimation of government, social justice, and societal stability need to be addressed ever more urgently, says Professor Richard Roberts. He argues that scholars of religion should not simply remain reluctant but paid tools of an industrialised system of defective socialisation that initiates students into informed passivity, but rather the source of a truly critical discourse that broadens the imagination and enhances personal agency.
Why it is that so few ‘secular’ scholars engage meaningfully with ‘religion’, wonders Michael Marten. Or to put it another way: why is it that so many religion scholars depend upon and practice disciplinary heterogeneity, whereas many of the scholars they use do not appear to engage substantially with what they write?
When it comes to evil, says Alison Jasper, we have a tendency to mystify it - that is reproduce unchallenging representations of it, from the monster in the movie with unclean appetites for human flesh and blood, right through to the 'monstrous perverts' of the tabloid press. Much more careful analysis and understanding is required to discover what lies behind the routine (but often imprecise) label 'evil'.