The American Cancer Society to Host Virtual Gala

The American Cancer Society to Host Virtual Gala

The event will honor Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, Chevrolet, and others for leading the fight against cancer locally while giving guests the chance to give back to the nonprofit

Emma Klug -October 20, 2020

The American Cancer Society is at risk of cutting cancer research funding by 50 percent this year — its lowest investment in this century — due to hardships brought on by the pandemic. Now, the nonprofit, which is funding nearly 20 research grants totaling $9.2 million in Michigan, is giving locals an opportunity to support its mission during these difficult times with a digital gala called the Night of Discovery.

Kicking off with a pre-show at 6:30 p.m., the Nov. 12 event will be emceed by WDIV’s Kimberly Gill and Devin Scillian and feature live entertainment, a silent auction, and a best dressed competition.

The evening will also honor “four leaders in the fight against cancer.” Honorees include Michigan State University Men’s Basketball Coach Tom Izzo, who has raised more than $1.1 million for ACS with his wife, Lupe, and the Lansing community; Chevrolet, which has raised over $13.9 million to fund breast cancer research and other initiatives; University of Michigan Women’s Softball Coach Carol Hutchins, who has raised more than $1.3 million for ACS through her softball program; and Ken and Kristen Lingenfelter, who have made a donation that will serve as a match for the gala.

tom izzo american cancer society
Michigan State University coach Tom Izzo — pictured above with his wife, Lupe, (far right) — will also be honored at the gala. // Photograph courtesy of the American Cancer Society

Night of Discovery will include opportunities to give back to the nonprofit, which has provided frontline healthcare workers with free places to stay at Hope Lodge facilities across the U.S., provided information and resources about COVID-19 to those diagnosed with cancer, and fought for policies that support cancer patients during the pandemic.

“Cancer hasn’t stopped for COVID-19, so neither can we,” says Karen Cullen, who is co-chairing the gala with her husband, Matt Cullen, the executive chairman of JACK entertainment, and Tom Shafer, president and COO of TCF Bank. “The reality is that cancer patients cannot wait for a more convenient time. They are facing unprecedented challenges when it comes to treatment, support, and services. In fact, a recent ACS study showed that 79 percent of cancer patients in active treatment report delays in care due to the pandemic. They are counting on ACS to continue its important work and ACS is counting on us to fuel that work.”

The virtual gala is open at no cost to the general public, but guests must register online to receive text and email notifications for the auction and livestream. VIP experiences are reserved for sponsors and donors.

For more information, visit

SOURCE: Emma Klug
MAIN IMAGE SOURCE: Chevrolet will be honored during the Night of Discovery gala. // Photograph courtesy of the American Cancer Society

How Religion Influences Our Relationship With the Environment

How Religion Influences Our Relationship With the Environment

OCTOBER 15, 2020

As a marker of identity that transcends national borders, religion influences many environmentally relevant behaviors. Thus, understanding its role is key to tackling environmental challenges that are fundamentally transnational.

Previous research has found that religion influences many aspects of lifestyle that affect the environment. These include childbearing decisions and the use of contraceptives (and resulting effects on population growth); risk behaviors and use of health services (which affect life expectancy); whether people see climatic change as human-caused, or related to forces beyond human control; consumption patterns, and thereby use of natural resources and emissions of greenhouse gases; and willingness to take actions to abate environmental degradation.

We have investigated the link between environmental challenges and religion in a new study in the Journal of Religion and Demography. The work builds on a growing body of research carried out at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network and the Columbia Aging Center. We looked at the environment-religion relationship by analyzing religious affiliation together with a variety of environment and climate change-related indicators at the country level. We also conducted exploratory and descriptive statistical analyses to better understand the associations among religion on one hand, and economic development, greenhouse gas emissions and exposure to environmental stressors on the other.

Basically, we found that nations whose inhabitants are less religious tend to use more resources and produce more emissions; yet, they are also better prepared to deal with resulting environmental challenges, because they are wealthier. On the other hand, nations whose populations are more religious tend to use fewer resources; yet at the same time, they have less capacity to meet environmental challenges, and are subject to more adverse outcomes, in part due to their high levels of poverty and continuing population growth.

map of world with countries shaded by percent of population with religious affiliation
Percentage of population with a religious affiliation, 2010.

We argue that it is important to consider the religious dimension when discussing who wins and who loses amid environmental degradation, resource shortages and global warming. To address issues of environmental justice, we need to identify groups that are disproportionately causing environmental risks, and those who are disproportionately exposed.

A key aim of our study is to assess the religious composition of those subject to environmental changes, and how gaining an understanding can help to craft environmental policies that are more effective in fighting climate change. This aspect is especially relevant in the poorest nations of the world, where close to 100 percent of the population ascribes to a religion, and where religion plays a very important role in providing basic services and social cohesion.

Further, the study looks into the role of religion in shaping human behavior. Religious change can affect social cohesion, consumption trends and willingness to pay for climate-change mitigation or adaptation initiatives. Our findings indicate that religious affiliation relates to greenhouse gas emissions, energy use and gross domestic product on a global scale. Countries with more emissions and greater GDP tend to be less religious, have less population growth and to be better prepared for environmental challenges. Conversely, countries with a greater proportion of religiously affiliated tend to have younger populations, higher environmental risks, lower GDP and lower preparedness levels.

Nations that are more religious may behave differently as they develop economically and technologically. This implies that international disagreements based on religious beliefs, values and viewpoints may play strong roles in the future.

The lowest level of energy use per capita, for instance, is observed among Hindu-dominated countries. The lowest climate-change adaptive capacity is found among countries with Muslim or Hindu majorities. It is conceivable that risk perception, and therefore preparedness, among these religious groups differs from those in other groups. This finding has been backed by previous research.

On the other hand, where the religiously unaffiliated are in majority, levels of climate-change adaptive capacity are the highest. Also, the World Risk Index is lowest for the religiously unaffiliated. In terms of risk of future water shortages, owing to their geography, climate and population dynamics, countries dominated by Muslims and Hindus have the highest levels of water stress. Christian and Buddhist countries have the lowest levels.

As the impacts of climate change become greater, the world is becoming more religious; the share of the world population with a religious affiliation is expected to rise, from 84% in 2010 to 87% by 2050. The world is also becoming more polarized in regard to how different nations affect the environment, with high and growing emissions shares from Europe and China, both regions with a high share of people without religious affiliation.

How exactly growth in the importance of religion might translate to climate policy and the future evolution of the climate system remains to be seen. Since religion may influence which policies are most effective and plausible, it is important to understand the evolution of the religious composition of the world alongside environmental changes. Furthermore, the ethical dimensions of climate change—namely the ways in which different faith traditions disproportionately contribute to or are impacted by climate change—will likely receive growing attention. Finally, identifying effective ways to communicate environmental issues and risks within faith traditions, and encouraging inter-faith and religious-nonreligious collaboration, will be important for addressing future global environmental challenges.

Vegard Skirbekk is a professor of population and family health at the Columbia Aging Center. Alexander de Sherbinin and Susana Adamo are, respectively, senior research scientist and research scientist at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). The other authors of the paper are José Navarro, an independent researcher, and Tricia Chai-Onn, a senior staff associate at CIESIN.


The Movement for Black Lives Has Always Been Spiritual

The Movement for Black Lives Has Always Been Spiritual

by Lawrence Burnley, 100 Days in Appalachia
June 24, 2020

When the Rev. Al Sharpton implored white America to “get your knee off our necks” at the memorial of George Floyd, his words were carried by news outlets across the globe. Meanwhile in the U.S., the Rev. William J. Barber II has been an ever-present voice in the protests, prompting some to place him as the successor to past civil rights greats.

That people of the cloth are at the forefront of the current protests over police brutality should not be a surprise.

From the earliest times of the United States’ history, religious leaders have led the struggle for liberation and racial justice for Black Americans. As an ordained minister and a historian, I see it as a common thread running through the history of the United States, from Black resistance in the earliest periods of slavery in the antebellum South, through the civil rights movement of the 1960s and up to the Black Lives Matter movement today.

As Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matters, says: “The fight to save your life is a spiritual fight.”

Spiritual calling

For many Black religious leaders in the United States, civil rights and social justice are central to their spiritual calling. Informed by their respective faith traditions, it places religion within the Black American experience while also being informed by African culture and the traumatic experience of the Transatlantic trade of African people.

We see this in Malcolm X’s 1964 exhortation that Black Americans should form bonds with African nations and “migrate to Africa culturally, philosophically and spiritually.” Malcolm X’s desire to internationalize the struggle in the U.S. after his 1964 pilgrimage to Mecca also speaks to the role he saw Islam having in the civil rights movement.

“America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem,” he wrote in a letter during his visit to Saudi Arabia. The struggle of Black Americans informed Malcolm X’s reading of the Quran.

Similarly, the interaction between religious text and real-world struggle informed earlier Black civil rights and anti-slavery leaders. Slave revolt leader Nat Turner, for example, saw rebellion as the work of God, and drew upon biblical texts to inspire his actions.

As the historian and Turner biographer Patrick Breen noted in an article for Smithsonian Magazine, “Turner readily placed his revolt in a biblical context, comparing himself at some times to the Old Testament prophets, at another point to Jesus Christ.” In his “Confessions,” dictated to a white lawyer after his 1831 arrest, Turner quoted the Gospel of Luke and alluded to numerous other passages from the Bible.

Turner had visions he interpreted as signs from God encouraging him to revolt.


Such prophetic visions were not uncommon to early anti-slavery leaders – Sojourner Truth and Jarena Lee were both spurred to action after God revealed himself to them. Lee’s anti-slavery preaching is also an early example of the important role that Black religious female leaders would have in the civil rights struggle.

In arguing for her right to spread God’s message, Lee asked: “If the man may preach, because the Saviour died for him, why not the woman? Seeing he died for her also. Is he not a whole Saviour, instead of a half one?”

These early anti-slavery activists rejected the “otherworld” theology taught to enslaved Africans by their white captors, which sought to deflect attention away from their condition in “this world” with promises of a better afterlife.

Instead, they affirmed God’s intention for freedom and liberation in both this world and the next, identifying strongly with biblical stories of freedom, such as the exodus of the Hebrew community from Egyptian enslavement and Jesus’ proclamation to “set the oppressed free.”

Incorporating religion into the Black anti-slavery movement sowed the seeds for faith being central to the struggle for racial justice to come. As the church historian James Washington observed, the “very disorientation of their slavery and the persistent impact of systemic racism and other forms of oppression provided the opportunity – indeed the necessity – of a new religious synthesis.”

At heart, a preacher

The synthesis continued into the 20th century, with religious civil rights leaders who clearly felt compelled to make the struggle for justice central part of the role of a spiritual leader.

“In the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in a 1965 article for Ebony Magazine.

Racial justice remains integral to Black Christian leadership in the 21st century. In an interview earlier this year, Rev. Barber said: “There is not some separation between Jesus and justice; to be Christian is to be concerned with what’s going on in the world.”

Recognizing the rich legacy of Black religious leadership in the struggle of racial justice in the United States in no way diminishes the role of historic and contemporary secular leadership. From W.E.B. DuBois to A. Philip Randolph, who helped organize 1963’s March on Washington, and up to the current day the civil rights movement has also benefited from those who would classify themselves as freethinkers or atheists.

But given the history of religion in the Black protest movement, it should be no surprise that the killing of George Floyd has unleashed an outpouring of activism from Black religious leaders – backed by supporters from different faith traditions.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]

This article first appeared on 100 Days in Appalachia and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

MAIN IMAGE SOURCE: Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Photo: National Park Service/Flickr

Division or Pluralism? Centering Faith and Spirituality in Diversity Efforts on College Campuses

Division or Pluralism? Centering Faith and Spirituality in Diversity Efforts on College Campuses

by Dr. Cobretti D. Williams
Friday, January 31, 2020


There is no shortage of contested issues on college campuses today. From race to equitable pay for college athletes, many of these issues are explored from different angles and are often taken up by social-justice oriented students and organizations on campus. While the efforts of social change require convergence and different groups coming together for a common cause, a constituency often left out are students and staff working in interfaith organizations and departments on campus. Eboo Patel is the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), an organization that works to promote religious pluralism and diversity in higher education. Discussing the differences that face higher education today, he says, “Though our nation is becoming more diverse in every possible way, there are too many examples of difference being divisive rather than constructively engaged. Campuses across America are facilitating positive interactions at orientation, in the classroom, and in co-curricular events that lead to lasting relationships across lines of difference.” A closer look at religious pluralism and interfaith community on campus may provide more insight for social justice initiatives than we previously thought.

At the foundational level, social justice and diversity begin with peer-to-peer interactions among college students. Colleges are becoming increasingly diverse across social identities, as such, the opportunity for meaningful connections across differences is ever-present. IFYC recently released a new report entitled “Friendships Matter” that explores the role of peer relationships in interfaith learning and development. A significant statistic within the report asserts that, among first-year college students, approximately 46 percent have five or more interworldview friendships; furthermore, this figure remains relatively unchanged after their first year of college. Though most social justice and diversity educators focus their efforts on differences in race, gender, or sexual orientation, for example, this report reveals another avenue by which institutions can strengthen conversations and find common ground among college students today.

Creating an environment where students can explore religious plurality and interfaith dialogue is important. It is also beneficial to have leaders that can guide and bridge dialogue between the different constituencies. In an article for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, Patel and other leaders of IFYC assert, “Higher education movements lack ‘legs’ if students are not committed or invested, and young interfaith leaders do not emerge unless they have civic spaces within which to develop.” Additionally, research confirms that interfaith programs share similar aims of leadership development for social change. It is clear this work happens in traditional sites of worship such as churches, temples, and monasteries, however higher education also has enough resources to produce similar opportunities for college students. Institutions like DePaul University run successful interfaith leadership programs. Whether or not institutions without religious affiliations have a desire to implement these initiatives is the question to consider.

In tandem with leadership development is civic engagement. Equipped with the awareness and tools to practice interfaith dialogue and cooperation, campuses can engage more with their surrounding communities and build partnerships across public and private spaces. This practice surfaces in a variety of ways, including service-learning and immersion projects built in collaboration within the local, national, or global communities. Furthermore, because students are engaging with interfaith worldviews, and institutions like Seattle University are structurally committed to these efforts, social justice and religious plurality are able to converge on issues involving faith in the queer community, prison reform, or racial justice. Therefore, as far as social justice in higher education is concerned, interfaith practice creates a path for colleges and universities to increase their civic education efforts, external partnerships, and community collaborations.

Despite best practices by some colleges and universities, notably those with established religious affiliations, institutional engagement with religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue still has room for improvement. In order for dialogue on social justice and diversity to broaden its impact through interfaith efforts on college campuses, institutions must reframe and consider their relationship with the topic of religion on college campuses. Though dialogue can often turn to conflict in public spheres of higher education, it is possible to reframe faith and spirituality as potential points of connection rather than a catalyst for division. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides a great example of this practice. Jewish and Muslim student faith groups gather for regular interfaith dialogue. Erez Cohen, the executive director of Hillel, has recently organized efforts to bridge conversations between different student faith groups, including the Muslim Student Association and the University YMCA. He says, “immersion programming is an important tool for building interfaith environments. Indeed, in the past three years Hillel has been leading interfaith trips to Israel with the goal of enhancing interfaith learning and understanding. Additionally, the University works with many ministries on our campus to create the Illinois Interfaith Conference each year. This is a unique space where students of different backgrounds and different levels of involvement can come and engage with other faiths.”

In institutions as diverse as colleges and universities, social issues are bound to become divisive; the nature of higher education brings together different opinions, perspectives, and knowledge to inform policies and practices in society. Religion is not absolved from division, but from the evidence of organizations like IFYC and interfaith organizations on college campuses, it can also serve as a point of connection. As Eboo Patel aptly put it, “As people from different backgrounds learn about one another, they grow in appreciation and are more able and willing to work across lines of difference for the common good, and gain profession competency and skills for civic leadership.”

This article is republished from HigherEdJobs® under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

SOURCE: Dr. Cobretti D. Williams

Marianne Williamson and the religion of ‘spirituality’

Marianne Williamson and the religion of ‘spirituality’

Galen Watts, Queen’s University, Ontario
October 6, 2019

Marianne Williamson recently burst onto the political scene as a somewhat unconventional candidate vying for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in the United States.

While she has never garnered more than two per cent in the polls and did not qualify for the third debate — meaning it’s likely her run will come to an end soon — her remarks during the first two Democratic debates, as well as her personality and unconventional campaign parlance, have provoked many media responses.

What distinguishes Williamson from other candidates is her personal and professional background. Prior to her foray into politics, she was an internationally renowned self-help and spiritual author and speaker, known for penning bestsellers like A Return to Love.

A child of the 1960s, Williamson was significantly involved with the New Age and Human Potential movements, even spending time working at Esalen Institute in California, the American “mecca” of alternative spirituality.

Today, she’s known as Oprah Winfrey’s spiritual adviser, and remains an outspoken advocate of mindfulness meditation, yoga and therapy as ways to achieve spiritual and social transformation.

Calling for an awakening

Williamson unapologetically infuses her interest in spirituality into her political campaigning.

On her website she calls for a “a moral and spiritual awakening” in America, speaking to those who are “seeking higher wisdom.” And in her closing statement at the first Democratic debate, she proclaimed that she will harness love to defeat President Donald Trump. NBC News.

A number of pundits have mocked Williamson. But the more common reaction is puzzlement: many just don’t know what to make of a renowned spiritual and self-help teacher running to lead the Democratic Party.

I believe this is largely because few are familiar with the history of alternative spirituality in North America and its ties to progressive politics.

We have seen a dramatic rise over the last few decades in the number of North Americans who self-identify as “spiritual but not religious.”

Those in this group, while certainly diverse, have deep spiritual interests, often champion something like the existence of a higher power, remain wary of orthodoxy and place a premium on individual autonomy.

It is these people to whom Williamson appeals. And while they might view themselves as seekers who don’t adhere to traditions, there is a longstanding tradition of alternative spirituality in the West.

Metaphysical movements

In Spiritual but not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America, religious historian Robert Fuller sheds light on the various metaphysical movements that emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries in America.

These include Swedenborgism, Transcendentalism, Spiritualism, Mesmerism, Theosophy and New Thought, each of which — despite being relatively unknown to most people — have significantly shaped the “spiritual but not religious” trend.

These movements were certainly theologically different, but nevertheless, like Williamson and her followers, they postulated the existence of unseen forces and championed the importance of both mystical experiences and individual freedom. If channelled appropriately, those forces could purportedly lead to self-empowerment.

The influence of these movements was far from marginal in American society. They often attracted well-known writers, politicians and artists. Ralph Waldo Emerson, often called America’s national poet, was an avowed Transcendentalist, as was Henry Thoreau, committed civil rights activist and author.

Others who belonged to some of these movements include psychologists William James and Carl Jung, philosopher Rudolf Steiner and biologist Alfred Russell Wallace.

The spiritual is political

Historian Leigh Eric Schmidt of Princeton University usefully traces the historical ties between these movements and progressive democratic politics in the U.S. in Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality.

Schmidt observes that many of the leaders and spokespeople of these movements were ahead of their time, both socially and politically.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), an important leader of the 19th century women’s rights movement in the United States, is seen in this 1890 portrait.

For instance, Margaret Fuller, an early Transcendentalist and confessed mystic, was also a staunch advocate for women’s rights in the early 19th century. So was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a women’s suffrage activist who sought to claim the privilege of autonomy for the female sex in The Woman’s Bible , published in 1895.

Walt Whitman, the famous American poet and writer – as well as a “curious inquirer into clairvoyance and Spiritualism” – championed, in cosmopolitan fashion, “the good in all religious systems,” according to Schmidt.

Felix Adler, a Reform Jew and founder of the Society for Ethical Culture, published in 1905 The Essentials of Spirituality, wherein he championed the importance of “doing justice to that inner self” in order to do “justice to others.”

Finally, Ralph Waldo Trine, proponent of New Thought and author of the successful In Tune with the Infinite, depicted God as a spirit of infinite life akin to a “reservoir of superhuman power.”

And though Trine’s doctrines were eventually appropriated by entrepreneurial and materialist ministers such as Norman Vincent Peale in the mid-20th century, Trine himself was a staunch progressive and social reformer. He was also a committed vegetarian, playing an active role in the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Why is Williamson so mind-boggling?

In light of this history, Schmidt concludes:

“The convergence of political progressivism, socioeconomic justice, and mystical interiority was at the heart of the rise of a spiritual left in American culture.”

It’s therefore worth asking why a candidate like Williamson so boggles the modern-day mind.

In part, it has to do with the way alternative spirituality developed over the 20th century. The New Age movement of the 1970s was arguably the most prominent. And while the “New Age” label may today be out of fashion, many ideas that were once championed under its banner remain strikingly popular.

In fact, it’s likely that many who call themselves “spiritual but not religious” subscribe to a set of ideas and engage in a variety of practices that were once central to that counter-cultural movement. And carrying forward a long-standing tradition, these ideas tend to appeal to the left.

Religion, after all, is increasingly associated in the U.S. with social conservatism. In turn, for many progressives, especially millennials, “religion” is no longer considered a viable option.

Williamson waves during a climate change summit in Washington, D.C., in September 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

So for those with spiritual interests, the cosmopolitan and inclusive spirituality of Williamson has an obvious appeal.

Of course, one of the tenets of New Age thought, at least in its most radical form, is that politics is a distraction from what really matters: self-transformation and spiritual enlightenment.

This may be why the image of Williamson as president is so difficult to entertain: we tend to think spirituality and politics just don’t mix.

But that’s at odds with the actual history of spirituality in America. Perhaps those who are “spiritual but not religious” will stop drawing a line separating the spiritual from the political. And if this happens, maybe the thought of a Williamson presidency won’t seem so implausible.

[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter. ]

Galen Watts, PhD Candidate in the Cultural Studies Graduate Program, Queen’s University, Ontario

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The impossibility of Indigenous religious freedom

The impossibility of Indigenous religious freedom

by Nicholas Shrubsole. Originally published on Policy Options
November 13, 2017

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) issued its ruling on the first case of Indigenous religious freedom under the modern constitutional order in Ktunaxa Nation v. British Columbia. The case focused on the development of a year-round ski resort (Jumbo Glacier) on Qat’muk, home of Kⱡawⱡa Tukⱡuⱡakʔis, the Grizzly Bear Spirit. The Ktunaxa Nation said that any disturbance of the land would drive the Grizzly Bear Spirit away, irrevocably impairing their religion, and significantly impacting the vitality and well-being of the community.

Following the 2012 approval of a master development plan for the resort by the provincial minister of forests, lands and natural resources, the Ktunaxa Nation brought the case before the BC Supreme Court (BCSC) and then the BC Court of Appeal (BCCA). The recent SCC decision exposed many of the most troubling prejudices that were bubbling beneath the surface in both the BCSC decision and BCCA decision. Ultimately, the SCC ruling affirms the superficiality of religious freedom in Canada, the impossibility of Indigenous religious freedom in Canada, and the inability of the court to recognize its own colonial and culturally located position — a position reaffirmed under the Charter.

The majority in the Ktunaxa Nation decision succinctly and crudely captured the true spirit of s. 2(a) under the Charter (freedom of conscience and religion). “Religious freedom,” as expressed by the SCC, lacks any measure of depth or recognition of the complexity of lived religious experience and it remains fixed within culturally identifiable limitations that make freedom possible for some and not for others. In the ruling of the Court, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin clarified that freedom of religion is restricted to freedom to hold and manifest beliefs (2017 SCC 54, par. 63).

Belief is, of course, one facet of religion, but not its entirety. Scholars of religion such as Jonathan Z. Smith and Donald S. Lopez (see Critical Terms for Religious Studies) have pointed to the modern Christian origins of the concept of religion and the pivotal shift that took place in the Christian world in the sixteenth century, which saw the concept move from the privileging of ritual to the privileging of internalized belief. It is this popular perception of religion that lies at the foundation of the legal discourse of religion in Canada. As Benjamin Berger reminds us in Law’s Religion: Religious Difference and the Claims of Constitutionalism, law is the product of culture and so too is its construction of religion.

Contemporary scholars of law and religion, notably Elizabeth Shakman Hurd among other contributors to Politics of Religious Freedom, have argued that belief is often prioritized at the expense of embodied and community aspects of religion. As an example, notice how “belief” does not adequately capture the description of religion offered in Article 12.1 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), cited by the Ktunaxa Nation in the Qat’muk Declaration:

Indigenous Peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their human remains.

Privileging and focusing on belief is therefore a culturally locatable act because the way in which religion is popularly understood (even by the courts) is identifiably, if only residually, Christian in nature. Legally protecting belief, rather than religion, does not adequately address the depth and complexity of religious experience. Wrestling with such matters would require the Court to engage in a self-reflective and complex investigation of the legal construction of a particular type of religion, which the SCC was unwilling to do.

Notably, the Ktunaxa Nation’s Qat’muk Declaration makes no mention of the term “belief.” The Ktunaxa were conscious to the potential for misunderstanding their religion, explaining in the Qat’muk Declaration that “Ktunaxa language does not translate well into other languages and consequently our spiritual relationship with Qat’muk may not be fully understood by others.” They go on to explain, “what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves” and “our people care for the land, the land cares for our people.” This is not worship and cannot so easily be relegated simply as belief or even practice.

For his part, Justice Michael Moldaver in his partially concurring decision was critical of what he described as the “empty” and “hollow” reading of religious freedom by the majority. Justice Moldaver asserted that “courts must be alive to the unique characteristics of each religion.” (par. 128). Justice Moldaver offered a corrective to the majority decision, clarifying that the Ktunaxa were not seeking protection for worship of the Grizzly Bear Spirit, but of the manifestation of belief through practice. While he drew important attention to the complexity and depth of religious experience, he too ultimately privileged belief, locating his partially concurring opinion in the existing cultural construction of religious freedom.

But the most glaring element of the SCC decision in Ktunaxa Nation v. British Columbia, in my view, is that Indigenous Peoples are not recognized as Indigenous Peoples under the Charter — despite the fact that they possess Aboriginal rights under s. 35 of the Constitution. The chief justice writes, “[W]ith respect to the s. 2(a) [Charter] claim, the Ktunaxa stand in the same position as non-Aboriginal litigants” (par. 58). This is not surprising as the Kelly Lake Cree Nation and Saulteau First Nation were offered a similar reminder in their s. 2(a) claim before the BCSC in 1998.

Under s.35 of the Constitution, the courts have recognized and affirmed Indigenous cultural rights and, more specifically, unique relationships between Creator, community, and the land. “Aboriginal rights” as cited in the Constitution, while fraught with problems in interpretation and application, seek to reconcile the pre-existence of Indigenous Peoples with Crown sovereignty.

In contrast, under the Charter, the courts have set aside Indigenous identities, the legacy of colonialism, and the specific contours of Indigenous religions in favour of legal universalism, where the law stands apart from culture, and treats everyone the same. Justice Moldaver, like the BCCA before him, referred to Qat’muk as public land to which all citizens have a right, rather than contested (or occupied) space in a legal framework that ideally seeks to reconcile Crown sovereignty with the continued existence of Indigenous Peoples on those territories. The relegation of Indigenous Peoples to being just another interest group helped Justice Moldaver to justify the provincial minister’s decision to approve the ski resort based on fiduciary responsibilities. Justice Moldaver did not go as far as the BCCA decision, in which Justice Richard Goepel accused the Ktunaxa Nation of seeking to impose their religion on the public, but the underlying denial of Indigenous identity and the history of colonialism remained.

If we accept the fact that the law is culturally located and that legal culture is rooted within a Euro-Canadian — possibly residually Christian — framework, then the Charter is a potential tool of assimilation.

Some early commentators suggested that the SCC should have considered UNDRIP, which Canada has endorsed, but that would assume that Indigenous Peoples are recognized as Indigenous Peoples under the Charter and they are clearly not. Neither article 12 nor article 25 of UNDRIP, relevant to the subject of Indigenous religious freedom, makes use of the word belief, as the Court did. In fact, the word belief cannot be found anywhere in UNDRIP; instead there are references to the “spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands” and “spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies.” Officially 22 years in the making, UNDRIP is a non-binding declaration constructed by representatives of Indigenous Peoples and of non-Indigenous governments from around the world. Of course, the UN Declaration does not actually matter in the context of the Charter. After all, for the SCC to recognize UNDRIP, it would have to recognize Indigenous Peoples as Indigenous Peoples under the Charter, and this is not the case.

The Supreme Court has certainly come a long way since its last ruling on Indigenous religious freedom in Jack and Charlie v. The Queen (a pre-Charter case that was ruled on by the SCC in 1985), wherein the Court explicitly decided what was and what was not Coast Salish religion. And yet, what may constitute an insurmountable bias remains. If we accept that the law is culturally located and that legal culture is rooted within a Euro-Canadian — and possibly residually Christian — framework, then the Charter is a potential tool of assimilation. Protection under s. 2(a) requires claimants to frame their religion in terms that are recognizable to the legal culture of Canada without reference to the colonial foundations of that very legal system or to the broader colonial context of Canada. This SCC decision indicates that Indigenous religious freedom, under s. 2(a), is currently an impossibility.

Photo: Shutterstock/By Globe Guide Media Inc. Mountain range and glaciers in the Purcell Mountains, near Qat’muk.

Do you have something to say about the article you just read? Be part of the Policy Options discussion, and send in your own submission. Here is a link on how to do it. | Souhaitez-vous réagir à cet article ? Joignez-vous aux débats d’Options politiques et soumettez-nous votre texte en suivant ces directives.

This article first appeared on Policy Options and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

SOURCE: Nicholas Shrubsole

Tutu’s activism for justice shows how theology can be made real

Tutu’s activism for justice shows how theology can be made real

John de Gruchy, University of Cape Town
October 6, 2017

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is internationally acclaimed for his life and work.

He has become best known for his work as General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, a base from which he led the churches in the struggle against apartheid for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, and his role as Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town in which he continued that public role as a leading symbol of black liberation and the bane of white South Africa.

He is also known for his role as the chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in which he endeavoured to help heal the nation as its father confessor; and lastly in a regularly deferred retirement, as a respected global elder in seeking to resolve both local and international conflicts.

Where does one even begin to start writing in appreciation of such a person and such a life? Fortunately, my task has been defined for me. I have been asked to write about his theology, an unusual request, but important nonetheless, given the fact that everything Tutu has said and done has been shaped, not by political insight and ambition, or by ecclesiastical interests, but by his faith in God, that is, by his theology.

Spiritual leader

Tutu is first and foremost, a spiritual leader, a man of deep prayer. But his deep spirituality is not and has never been the piety of a religious ghetto; exactly the opposite.

It was this that motivated his participation in seeking justice for the downtrodden and supporting the liberation struggle. It was this that gave him the courage to confront political bullies, stand up to abuse even from within his own church, and lead protest marches in the face of overwhelming displays of state power.

Functionaries of the apartheid state as well as those of our current government who abuse their power, look decidedly tawdry alongside the Arch. They are no match for his moral authority, his spiritual depth, or his theological wisdom. Nor can they compete with his humility, humour or humanity.

Unless we begin at this point in acknowledging Tutu’s spirituality we will completely misunderstand who he is and the contribution he makes to the life of the world. Critics who label him a political priest, totally misunderstand him. Tutu is politically astute, but he has had no personal political ambitions, nor was or is he a member of any political party.

Reconciliatory ministry

His social engagement began as he daily celebrated the Eucharist, listening in the silence to discern what needed to be said and done in the public arena. He had learnt this from his earliest teachers, the Fathers of the Community of the Resurrection in Rosettenville and Sophiatown, among them Trevor Huddleston, whose scathing critique of apartheid, Naught for your Comfort, remains a classic.

It goes without saying that Tutu was well versed in the theological doctrines of Christian faith. In particular he had a profound understanding of the incarnational character of Christianity, the faith conviction that

God was in Christ reconciling the world.

Therefore, he stressed the incarnational and reconciling ministry of the church in the life of the world. He discerned the image of God imprinted on the face of all human beings, and believed that despite their sins, none was beyond redemption. Thus forgiveness and the inclusive embrace of the other are fundamental to human and social well-being.

His favourite theological theme was the Transfiguration, a symbol of hope and encouragement in times of darkest despair when the cross looms large and suffering becomes inevitable though potentially redemptive. Tutu drank deeply from the wells of the Hebrew prophets whose words inspired his own as he challenged evil, spoke truth to power and words of hope to the powerless. All the while, he was being drawn deeper into the mystery of God as he journeyed into the suffering of people and trying to find meaning in the darkest of times. On one occasion, in speaking about the untimely death of a young Christian leader, he cried out

God is God’s worst enemy!

That is when theology becomes real – when the very word God becomes difficult to utter, when God is apparently absent. It is at the cross that faith is born. That is the faith of Desmond Tutu; the faith that enabled him to fight injustice and provide leadership in the struggle against oppression. That is Tutu’s theology, profoundly simple, yet simply profound.

John de Gruchy, Emeritus Professor of Christian Studies, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

SOURCE: John de Gruchy
MAIN IMAGE: Archbishop Desmond Tutu ‘s deep spirituality drove him to fight for freedom and justice. EPA/Nic Bothma

Religious neutrality and reconciliation

Religious neutrality and reconciliation

by Brian Bird. Originally published on Policy Options
March 3, 2017

Today it’s a given in Canada that institutional practice of religion in public schools is unacceptable. School prayer, for example, is a nonstarter. The journey to this destination began as a reaction to the practice of Christianity in public schools as Canada became more diverse and secular. A watershed moment occurred nearly three decades ago, when a group of parents in Sudbury won their court case seeking to end the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in Ontario’s public schools.

Given this firm commitment to the secular delivery of public education, what is the appropriate response, in 2017, to the introduction of Indigenous spirituality into the classroom? A new lawsuit in British Columbia raises this question.

Candice Servatius is the mother of two students at John Howitt Elementary School on Vancouver Island. She sued because of John Howitt’s decision to incorporate Indigenous spirituality by way of classroom cleansing rituals and the recitation of a prayer at a school assembly. She says her children were required — or at least given the distinct impression that they were required — to participate in these ceremonies.

State institutions — including public schools — must be neutral in religious matters. The Supreme Court of Canada reaffirmed this duty when, in 2015, it ruled that a town council meeting could not begin with a Christian prayer. In the ruling, the Court referred to the Sudbury case in the 1980s. The state, in carrying out its functions, cannot favour or hinder a particular religion (or even an explicitly irreligious world view like atheism).

John Howitt Elementary argues that the ceremonies under scrutiny are not religious but cultural (and thus pose no risk to religious neutrality). This argument may fail due to the broad definition that Canadian courts have afforded to “religion” — a definition that probably captures practices that invoke a god or emphasize the links between body, spirit and creation.

The practices at John Howitt bear these features. The assembly prayer allegedly mentioned a “god.” A letter from the school to parents described the classroom cleansing ceremony as inspired by the belief that “everything is one; all is connected” and everything “has a spirit.” The letter also stated the ceremony would “cleanse” the classroom and students of negative energy as they hold a cedar branch while smoke is fanned over their “body and spirit.”

Even if John Howitt breached religious neutrality, some may argue that the practices should continue. These voices may be inspired by initiatives like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which outlined concrete steps toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. In this case, does the gain for reconciliation — if there is any — justify the loss for religious neutrality?

Reconciliation can and should be achieved without compromising the state’s duty of religious neutrality. This neutrality is a precondition for the meaningful exercise of freedom of conscience and religion protected in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As the Supreme Court stated in the 2015 case, this duty preserves a “neutral public space that is free of discrimination and in which true freedom to believe or not to believe is enjoyed by everyone equally, given that everyone is valued equally.”

We can balance reconciliation and religious neutrality by teaching (rather than practising) the content of Indigenous spirituality — along with other features of Indigenous cultures — in our schools. This knowledge could be added to existing courses or serve as the foundation for new ones. In fact, educational reform of this kind is currently under way. In response to recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canadian law schools are modifying their curricula to deepen knowledge of Indigenous legal traditions. The law school at McGill University recently made these modifications in the classroom.

This approach is more conducive to reconciliation than imposing spirituality drawn from Indigenous cultures — even where, as in the case of John Howitt, there is seemingly no intent to indoctrinate. The state’s duty of religious neutrality is concerned with the imposition of religion (or irreligion) by the state, irrespective of such intent.

We must not forget that religious imposition within state-sponsored education is part of the dark history that led to the events explored by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the level of disconnection between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada today. If other schools follow the example of John Howitt, the reconciliation that we seek — that we need — may never be complete.

Photo: Mark Spowart/The Canadian Press

Do you have something to say about the article you just read? Be part of the Policy Options discussion, and send in your own submission. Here is a link on how to do it. | Souhaitez-vous réagir à cet article ? Joignez-vous aux débats d’Options politiques et soumettez-nous votre texte en suivant ces directives.

This article first appeared on Policy Options and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

SOURCE: Brian Bird

Why Ray Kurzweil Believes We Are Becoming More God-Like

Why Ray Kurzweil Believes We Are Becoming More God-Like

By Andrew J. O’Keefe II -Aug 18, 2016

People tend to ask Ray Kurzweil all manner of questions about technology and the future. But they also want to know about his own personal philosophy. In one session last summer, a questioner asked Kurzweil if he believes in God. Of course, many of us struggle with the question, he replied, and to him, it’s not unambiguous.

There’s variability in how we describe God, but he thinks there are some commonalities. Shared traits include creativity, love, and intelligence—attributes we tend to also value in conscious beings. To Kurzweil, consciousness is the ultimate measure of spirituality. Much of our morality is based on whether an entity is conscious or not (even though it’s still hard to define).

“Everyone with very few outliers believes in the sacredness of a conscious person, and in fact, non-conscious things, like a machine or a diamond, are only important in so far as they affect the conscious experience of conscious beings.”

Evolution, he goes on, further enhances some of these valued traits, such as intelligence, love, and creativity, and in his view, this means we are approaching this shared image of God.

“What happens to entities as they evolve? We became more intelligent. We became more capable of higher level emotions, so we became more loving. We became more creative. We became more beautiful. And so we’re actually moving exponentially to have greater levels of the very properties we ascribe to God without limit.”

For years, Ray Kurzweil has been giving fireside chats at Singularity University. Now, some of his best questions and answers will be released every Thursday on Singularity University’s Ray K Q&A YouTube channel. Check back each week for the latest video.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

By Andrew J. O’Keefe II

This article originally appeared on Singularity Hub, a publication of Singularity University.

SOURCE: Andrew J. O’Keefe II



by Luke Miller Truth Theory

I think it’s safe to say that spirituality is indeed a good thing. The problem is that some people can enter the spiritual world with a pre conceived misconception that it is going to be an all-round positive experience.

Spirituality is not one thing and can be expressed in multiple ways. Some will find enlightenment through their work, others through religion, others through spiritual practice like mediation and yoga, others through the use of psychedelics and others by just expressing themselves in a positive way through kindness, compassion and love. No matter how you find the spirit within you, there is no right way of doing it.

What is spirituality? Spirituality is a very misunderstood term, some equate it to religion and while it can be related it is not an exclusively religious thing.

The spirit is the essence of a person, that elusive thing within us that makes us naturally behave in certain ways. When the mind is quite and all is peaceful all that’s left is the spirit.You have your 4 levels of health- the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. All but the spirit are easily defined, measurable and explainable, the spiritual side of things is a little more mystical and hard to explain in a short sentence. But it is still a real thing.

One thing that will be present in all spiritual practice is consciousness. Consciousness is hard to define as is spirituality because again it is not one thing, but to make things simple consciousness on an individual level is your awareness of a thing, even if that thing is nothing.

One of the problems that can arise as a result of expanding your consciousness or awareness is a hard slap around the face of reality. It’s almost like The Matrix’s when Morpheus offers Neo the red or blue pill. Once you take that red pill reality can be hard to comprehend.

Spiritual practice and the expansion of your consciousness is like dissolving a barrier that has been slowly put up throughout your childhood and adulthood- through education, society’s expectations and family and friends.

Once this barrier is down it opens up the floodgates for all the good there is, but also the darker side of the world.

Firstly if you look at the collective consciousness you will see a lot of disharmony between people. As you walk down the street you will see peoples pain and on a global scale you will see how terrible the wars and suffering are. That’s not to say you didn’t see some of this before but once awakened it can be hard to ignore.

The second thing is your individual consciousness, once activated this spiritual awareness is like the holding up of a mirror and while it will help us to see the good in ourselves and others it can also help us to see the mistakes we are making and where we are going wrong.

Spirituality makes you face your flaws, the pain you have caused and the negativity which lies within you. Sometimes it can make you question who you are and what you stand for. It will also help you to realise the pain you have locked away and at times this can be a lot to bear.

One of the things that is common to experience is an initial feeling of euphoria when you reach a certain level of spiritual development and while this euphoric feeling is great it can often set you up for unrealistic expectation of yourself and others.

For some it will manifest in an expectation of others to understand your process and while it is good to have people around you who are on a similar path, it is ultimately an individual journey.

Another misconception is that a spiritual awakening is the end goal, when in reality it is just the start, it’s a bit like capturing a wild lion and expecting it to be tame. You have to nurture your spirit and continue to ask questions. Sometimes you will not like the answers and at other times the answers will not always be clear, but if you persevere you will find what you are looking for.

Taking the road of spirituality can be both the most difficult and rewarding thing you will ever do and it’s important not to get attached to your current situation, you will usually find that the dots connect and nothing you have ever done has been pointless.

One of the most important things you can do to minimise stress and anxiety, is to trust the process and know that if you continue to move towards your goals the only thing that can stand in the way is time or if you decide to give up.

When you can separate the darkness which we all have from the light and understand that both are normal and necessary it will make the road a lot less bumpy. Different states of mind serve different purposes and when you get to know your own emotional cycles and how they affect you, you can use these states to perform at your peak.

Ultimately making a conscious effort to grow spiritually is the best decision anyone can make. Spirituality will inform you of the truth, positive or negative and once you can face that truth in your own life growth will be inevitable!

Thanks for reading this article, let me know where you are on your spiritual journey by leaving me a comment below.


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.