On the Blog

January 19, 2008

I’m confused. An immense amount of media coverage has been dedicated this past year to philanthropic organizations associated with high-power people and companies doing charitable work in a different way. Bill Clinton has argued that pharmaceutical companies can even make a fair margin off of cheap drugs to developing countries in Africa.

Does corporate social responsibility lead to greater profitability for a company’s shareholders? An article in The Harvard Business Review debunks the idea and determines that there is “a very small correlation between corporate behavior and good financial results.”

January 18, 2008

In a recent Sightings newsletter, the regular distribution from the Martin Marty Center at University of Chicago divinity school, Marty wrote about the religion statistics as reported by the World Christian Database.  Among their findings are the following figures on Christians across the world.

“Roman Catholics” claim 1,130,401,000…The 422,659,000 “Independents” outnumber 386,644,000 “Protestants” and 252,891,000 “Orthodox” and the rest.

January 18, 2008

Cary Tennis, the smart, poetic, intelligent advice columnist for Salon, dispenses some of his usual brilliance to a teenager who seems to be outgrowing (subscription required, or free to view after ads) the faith and/or views of her parents.

The danger of teaching a child only one absolute and inviolable set of rules is that when the child meets contradictions she has no way to integrate those contradictions into her world. Integrating your direct experiences into your world of faith requires nuance. When your experience seems to contradict what you have been taught, you have to move beyond the literal and toward the metaphorical and the subjective. In a world of absolutes, those words may sound like the devil’s words. But they represent experience as we know it, not as we wish it were so. Meeting apparent contradiction also spurs growth. But grow carefully.


January 18, 2008

The List Universe assembles all types of “top 15” lists. Well, they’ve started a series on religious and atheist thinkers. I couldn’t help note the contrast in quotes from the great 13th-century philosopher Thomas Aquinas:

“Wonder is the desire for knowledge.”

and one of America’s great 20th-century writers, Ernest Hemingway:

“All thinking men are atheists.”


January 17, 2008
January 14, 2008

I’m conducting a tiny experiment: reading back-to-back biographies of Muhammad based on free books we got here at SoF: Tariq Ramadan’s In The Footsteps of the Prophet, and Karen Armstrong’s Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time.


January 14, 2008

In the New York Times Magazine, renowned cognitive scientist Steven Pinker looks at the possible biological underpinnings to the human concept of morality. The wonderful public radio show Radio Lab also explored this issue a while back in one of their episodes.


January 13, 2008
December 24, 2007

A poignant tale of Rabbi Heschel handling discrimination with humor and humanity.

December 18, 2007

A newborn's foot. (photo: Shelley Gilliss)One of the most difficult aspects of working at Minnesota Public Radio is that I often don’t get a chance to listen to public radio on the weekdays, especially during working hours. Thanks to a new baby boy, I was actually able to listen to a documentary on Alzheimer’s disease by a colleague and former producer at SOF, Brian Newhouse.

It’s a wonderfully crafted piece that’s full of facts and figures and scientific experts discussing the problems and approaches to treating and curing the disease. But, the part that sang to me, is a follow-up interview with a man in his 40s who describes the way he communicates with his wife now that he is home-bound:

December 11, 2007
November 30, 2007
November 29, 2007

Yesterday, Krista had an interesting discussion with Greg Epstein, a humanist chaplain at Harvard. With the holiday season coming up and our schedule of programs cemented through the end of December, we won’t be able to evaluate and produce the program until 2008.

The question came up: Should we release the unedited interview to our online audience before we produce them?

The advantages are that our core audience gains greater and more immediate access; the disadvantages are that the guest may not get a fair first hearing and the core listener doesn’t have a produced, tailored program to compare it to. Believe me, I’m still taken aback by the magic of radio production. Shows I thought would be dull came alive with a professional hand.

What do you think?


November 22, 2007
November 19, 2007

It’s all a blur. I swear, if I hear the words “paradigm shift,” “hermeneutics,” or “exegetical” one more time…

Let’s see, what did I see today? A look at the function of hadith (sayings of Muhammad) in Islam, an eight-dollar chicken burger, a deliberation over which non-canonical sources were most pertinent to understanding the life of Jesus, theological and moral responses to social, economic, military and environmental issues, a look at Chinese religions, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

It’s all a blur.

I think the most relevant session I caught was the one exploring the theological and moral responses to massive sociopolitical problems. It seemed to me one of the only sessions I caught in the past three days that didn’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. Namely, in all this research of religion, what is the point? The point is to help us deepen human knowledge in the arena of religion—for the purpose of helping us respond to the central concerns voiced by religion: suffering, injustice, death, war.

November 19, 2007

I spent my first full day—and second day overall—here at the American Academy of Religion’s 2007 conference here in misty, hazy San Diego.

I’m not sure exactly what I wanted this morning as I headed down to the conference center. Actually, no, that’s not true. I always want to be blown away. I rarely am.

The morning started with a two-and-a-half hour session entitled “From ‘Muslims in America’ to ‘American Muslims’.” For some reason, I bemoan the identity politics of current Muslim discourse, yet continue to go to things like this hoping for some kind of revelatory experience, something that’s going to speak to me.

But despite the excellence of the scholarship, I found precious few things that really spoke to me at that session. I did like Abbas Rezagar’s outlining of six broad categories of American Muslim identity, which corresponded vaguely and more comprehensively to my own theories that Western Islam is shifting to a model similar to that of Judaism (Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist, etc.).

November 17, 2007

After a long day of air travel, I’ve arrived in San Diego for the 2007 edition of the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature conference.

I managed to make it down to the expansive San Diego conference center by about 4 pm, in time for what turned out to be a rather abstruse deliberation by a group of scholars about the interpretation of the Qur’an. I wish I could summarize what they were talking about, but, well, I have no real clue. Something about some lost manuscript or other.

Actually, a presentation in that session about the idea of “holy land” in Islam did bring up the Hajj pilgrimage. I get those crazy ideas, after the Rural Studio show, of going on some literal radio pilgrimage to Mecca, with some eloquent Islamic scholar who can reflect on the whole experience. Or maybe go down to the Ganges when the largest pilgrimage in the world descends on that river.

November 16, 2007

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