Tuesday, January 31, 2012


In our ongoing conversation about words, language, and "the linguistic turn" I wanted to post this video, partly because it is connected to the RadioLab episode that we will listen to in class later today and partly because I think that it is just beautiful. And beauty is something that we are going to also have to deal with in this class. I also think it gets at the idea of how we use language and how the language that we use shapes how we think. Enjoy:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Long on Language: Discussion

To start the discussion on language:

If we all speak different languages, is it possible that we all perceive the world differently?
How are language and culture intertwined?
Can you speak intelligently about a culture, if you only know the language?
What are risks of translation?
Is language a help or a hindrance?

Don't feel like you have to answer all these questions! This is just food for thought. Please remember to comment (don't start new posts).

~Kaleb, Azim, Poonam [moderating team]

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Atheist Church?

I read this article recently about an atheist church being founded in London, and I found it both fascinating and a little strange.


Please post using a single thread per discussion

Hi guys,

No one is in trouble, but the conversation is MUCH easier for everyone to follow if the moderators begin the thread with their initial post and then everyone else leaves their comments in the "comments" section of that initial post. Can you guys do that from now on?

Reaction to Long’s Idea of Culture

I’d like to start off by saying that I agree with Long’s initial definition of culture: “our cultivation of language, actions, habits, gestures, thoughts, etc. for specific purposes is what we mean when we use the term culture” (pg. 3). But where him and I differ is the way he analyzes and applies this definition. It seemed to me that Long had a difficult time disassociating religion with culture. While I do acknowledge that he makes differentiations between the two (and acknowledging the obvious fact that the title is Theology and Culture), I believe they are inadequate. Any culture is of course influenced by religion, but there are many other factors included in this broad concept. For example the very divisive concept of abortion in our culture is not just affected by religious concepts but also by scientific and philosophical concepts as well.

I found his commentary about the hammer, and the lack of knowledge someone would have with just a definition fairly interesting. I think that he is correct that language is influenced by culture (or perhaps vise versa). But more specifically, I think that language is affected by the context in which the language is residing. For example, he refers in the reading to a hammer and the lack of information the definition of the hammer would give you when you are trying to roof a house. I use the word context instead of culture because a person in the United States that is trying to roof a house with a hammer can have the same concept of a hammer as someone across the globe that is roofing a house. I don’t believe that the knowledge they share of the hammer is commonalities in the culture (granted the fact that both of the individuals are using a hammer for roofing might be considered by some to be similarities in culture), but commonalities of the context in which the hammer is being used.

"Theology and Culture" Reaction

As I was reading the article, I had trouble formulating my own opinions on much of what Long was saying. I found myself not entirely positive I agreed with certain conclusions. Subsequently, I was unable formulate an appropriate, reasonable, explanation as to why many of his assertions didn't sit well with me. First of all, the discussion over a definition for culture seemed inadequate to me. Words have definitions, and precise ones at that. While our interpretations of a given word (let's use culture... duh) can be different, in the end, culture means one thing. Can the meaning change? Certainly, but if it changes for one person, it changes for everyone. At first glance, this might seem like a glaring fallacy, but consider this - if the word "queer" can change meanings, and subsequently definitions, it doesn't make either meaning false. Arguably, it means you've created a homonym. They are different words, but context gives them meaning. "That party was queer," if uttered by my grandmother, would mean the party was strange. But if any of my classmates said the same phrase, it would mean something entirely different.
Because of this, I reject the notion that a word can have two meanings, or different definitions. If it does, it means you have two distinct words. Therefore, I would assert that culture is indeed difficult to define, but that does not mean that, used by a theologian or a botanist, it is granted a different meaning.
I agree that culture and religion are infused together - abandoning definitions and battles over semantics, we can see practical examples as to why this is true. For instance, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism in their present forms are incompatible with American culture. They would not, and could not, flourish here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Long's Compelling Relationship between Language and Culture

While reading Long's "Theology and Culture," I found myself getting distracted by many things he mentions as well as fails to mention. I was focused on how big of a connection he draws between culture and language and how he never actually offers his own explicit definition of language. I also thought his description of the relationship between culture and theology falls short and does not do either of the concepts justice. With that said, in this post I will focus on the way he portrays culture mostly in terms of language and how that does nothing but limit culture in its definition.
"When we speak about God, we do not use some private language that God gives us. We use everyday language; the language that allows us to communicate the most mundane things as well as the most sublime. For this reason, theology cannot be done without culture..." is what Long says in the beginning of his article. He does not explain the difference between culture and language here, but makes them equivalent--and continues to do so throughout this specific work. At first he attempts to illustrate the idea of culture with the nature of language in that one needs to fully experience each in order to make sense of them. He claims that humans do not invent culture or language but inherit them throughout their lives. I found this type of comparison to be convincing and agree that both language and culture greatly influence an individual's worldview and, in turn, possibly partially prevent them from be able to see through different lenses, so to speak. However, I believe that Long goes too far with this comparison and confuses the two concepts, and therefore limits their separate potentials. Long uses Mary’s fiat, the spoken consent given to the angel Gabriel, and the idea of a “linguistic turn” in philosophy as testaments to the importance of language to our culture and as a distant connection between culture and theology. “Culture matters because our knowledge is inseparable from our language," is a bold statement that Long makes that I would argue is somewhat false. This statement led me to the question of bilingualism. If knowledge is inseparable from language, then can I know the same things in English that I do in Spanish? And if this is the case and culture is defined by language, is it possible to immerse yourself in more that one culture? Defining culture as language makes it difficult for the nature of anything to be known for sure. When one draws such a connection between language and culture, as Long does, he or she runs the risk of making both of them a sort of prison. A prison that confines one to the language they grow up and prevents that person from fully experiencing multiple languages or cultures. 
The relationship between language and culture is not all that Long talks about in his work, but I found the way he juxtaposed the two super compelling. In conclusion, I do not agree with Long’s definition of culture but I find the topics that he touches on a great source for debate. 

How my idea of culture matches Stephen Long’s

Before reading through some of Stephen Long’s ideas, I was under the impression that there is no such thing as a concrete definition for the word culture. I found his argument pretty compelling and mostly true, aside from his last few pages.
Our ideas essentially matched when he illustrated the different prejudices that can prevent an accurate definition of the word culture. If a biologist approaches it, the term culture will be seen and defined in a much different light than if a theologist analyzes it. This therefore makes it impossible to form a single meaning of the word. This also coincided with what we discussed in class, as everyone seemed to struggle to find a single definition for science fiction. Now, it is clear that there can and should be multiple definitions for it.
What struck me toward the end of the text was Long’s argument regarding the different methods of cultural observation. On the one hand, according to Long, one cannot attain a full understanding of a culture by being the unbiased, outside observer. On the other hand, fully immersing oneself in a culture could ultimately prevent the observer from remaining unbiased. These arguments made sense to me, but what confused me was that he held the two theories as mutually exclusive. Wouldn’t it be possible to combine these approaches to gain a well rounded understanding of a culture?
Another problem I had with his argument was how he considered religion and culture inseparable. The evidence he uses is how religious figures made contact with God, requiring language and other factors inherent in culture. However, isn’t Long in some way limiting the definition of culture by only considering a few specific factors of culture?
Ultimately, I agree with most of Lang’s points, especially the argument that it is impossible to have a single definition for culture and that comparing different cultures is far more difficult than it may seem on paper.

Reaction to Long's "Theology and Culture"

I agree with most of Long's definition of culture. I felt that his idea of how culture is a difficult term to define was very accurate because it can be interpreted in different ways depending on the situation. The concept of culture outlines many aspects of a group of peoples' way of life, and it can definitely vary from person to person or from place to place. Culture can include religion, habits, values, history, and language, among many other things, to portray people and their ways of life. I agree with Long that religion is an important aspect of a culture, but I disagree that this religion must be Christianity. I believe that any belief in a God is an important detail that helps to describe people from a certain place or time. Any type of spirituality, whether it is in a God or some other kind of greater power, can show a lot about the culture of a group of people. To eliminate other types of religion or spirituality from the concept of culture is to claim that the only "correct" religion is Christianity, and is to say that any other belief systems are not real, established, or important. I personally think that looking at the differences in cultures is what makes studying groups of people from different time periods and locations so interesting. Even though culture is something that is hard to grasp, I don't think that Long should be shutting out anything that might be an important trait of a specific lifestyle.

Reaction to Long's Idea of Culture

After reading the excerpts of D. Stephen Long's "Theology and Culture" multiple times over, I am finding it increasingly difficult to write this post. This is because, honestly, I am finding it impossible to constrain my frustration. I feel as if Long spent the majority of his text, or at least, the text we were assigned to read, drawing points that illustrate the term culture's transition from noun of process to metaphor, and the complexity of assigning it a definition, while a surprisingly small amount of text was given to his actual idea of culture.
At one point, Long cites H. Richard Niebuhr's definition of culture as "That total process of human activity and that total result of such activity to which now the name culture, now the name civilization, is applied in common speech... it compromises language, habits, ideas, beliefs, customs, social organizations, inherited artifacts, technical process and values." This idea of culture as something that encompasses all social actions and interactions, is one that is very similar to mine.
On page 21, Long states that "the meaning of culture is not found in a precise definition, but in the various uses for the term," making the case that the term "culture" is the same as the term "hammer," since both have multiple uses that depend on the circumstance in which they're used. I found this statement irritating and obvious. While I understand his argument, and recognize its validity, I feel that it is a moot point. This applies to many other words, and when you're attempting to define a term, you simply have to accept the term as static, despite its other possibilities.

Reaction to Long's View on Culture

Stephen Long's perspective and definition of culture reflects the debate of what is definition in the first place, which is something we have been trying to do in class for the past week. I agree with Long in that we cannot exactly pinpoint one exact definition, and that it depends on geography, history, actions, and beliefs of each individual and their perspective on the world and nature to define a certain culture. Long says that culture is a metaphor, an imagery that equates the cultivation of plants and people, and that it brings both good and bad attributes. He states that culture is what happened to people, their history and past, the cultivation of people through practices, language, communities, and doctrines. In order to define a metaphor, you have to define the literal parts of the metaphor itself- and with his idea of the cultivation of people, one must define their history and roots in order to create a cultural influence. I agree with Long when he says that culture is attributed to human activity, and that theology has a large part to do with culture today because of the many different religious practices and rituals of our world, and the fact that religion has shaped so much of the world issues. I think that culture is definitely subjective, which correlates with the idiographic view of culture, in which one has to stand within culture to understand it, and that it is particular to one's self and different experiences and ways of life, but i also believe that viewing culture from the outside is always very influential. I think that what it comes down to is that culture is a circular definition, in which people create the culture and culture creates the people. 

My definition of Culture in Relation to Long's

It seems that Long believes culture is a term that humans inherently relate to; in the way that we know the difference between the ways you can use the word 'hammer', we know the markers of what culture is.  I agree with Long in that culture can be classified as 'human activity', but I understand why he would want to qualify such a statement with several explanations on the difficult nature of defining one of the most complex words in the English language. I do not agree, however, with Long's inexplicable link between human culture and Christianity. I understand that several cultures across the globe are inextricably associated with Christianity, but to define culture as being inextricably associated with Christianity is to ignore the majority of the world. Long's connection between religion and culture in general seems convoluted. In a contemporary world, we cannot expect every person to base their actions on the word of God, which Long bases the definition of culture on. I believe the bounds of culture are beyond Long's grasp, in which religion is part of the definition, not the basis for the definition.

Long on Culture..and my Reaction

So the first thing this class has done is entirely uproot my definition of 'definition,' and I'm okay with that. As I'm quickly learning, defining things like sci-fi and culture take more than the OED (as much as we love it). Long explains culture as a "metaphor for human development" (page 7), which I think makes sense. From my experiences, culture is the collection of customs, traditions, actions, beliefs, history and language (much of which is influenced by religion) that guides the way individuals behave on a daily basis. All of those elements I listed above influence our growth and development through life and as a society (or various societies depending on different cultures); thus culture is a metaphor for "human development," a way of explaining human development. And you can't really define culture any deeper than this (I think I probably defined culture too narrowly). I think the hammer example was well used to explain how terms have different meanings in different settings. In the same way, culture means different things to different people, depending on their backgrounds and histories. It's a very vague term, one that I don't think can be defined through the "nomothetic" or "idiographic" approaches. Both are too extreme, and would yield either a too-distant or too-narrow definition. You have to get into a culture a little bit, but remain a bystander on some level to give a rounded subjective and objective opinion.

How my idea of culture compares to Long's

I would say overall that I agree with Long's general idea of culture. In my opinion, Long perfectly described how culture as metaphorical. It would be incorrect to set out a perfect, rigid definition of culture, or anything for that matter; however, looking at culture as a metaphor allows us to narrow down a large sum of information into a smaller, though not too specific, idea that most of us can agree on. I also agree on how culture in contexts affects people, like the cultivation comparison. Culture does cultivate people, whether they want to or not. Religion, culture, and beliefs all exist in anyone's preconceptions in varying amounts. For example, certain people may take their culture loosely and not adhere to specific community standards that a person of said culture may exhibit but rather pick and choose and make culture something out of convenience. A way to get in and out of situations, to avoid conflict or to start it. This reading, along with the others we have read so far for this class, changed how I define things. Nothing is certain, not religion, not culture, not love nor hate. But granted a period of time, a person can be cultivated by their culture if they are placed in that context regardless of whether they want to or not. - Akshay

How my idea of culture matches Stephen Long's.

Long begins his explanation of culture by mentioned where the general denotation came from, the cultivation of a plant, and includes how the term is used metaphorically. Long's example of the hammer makes a lot of sense to me in that when I(and likely most people) learned what a hammer was, it wasn't by a dictionary definition but rather by using it in a certain context. He views culture in a similar manner in that defining culture doesn't do the term and idea justice. Culture is an abstract idea encompassing many activities that humans do on a day-to-day basis. I tend to agree with Niebuhr, whose work Christ and Culture is referenced by Long. He believes that culture includes things ranging from beliefs and customs to social organizations and technical processes. That notion is something that resonantes with me because I don't think culture can be easily defined and is best understood in the context of different situations.

How does my definition of Culture differ from Stephen Long's

              His basic idea is that culture is a metaphor and it must be applied differently to different situations.  I agree with his literal meaning of culture.  In that a process that creates a specimen in a peetre dish in a laboratory  is a culture.  This is the most concrete definition of culture in the reading.
               Because I am a biology major I like to hold onto concrete ideas and say "this is the answer", however recently I have found that with many words that we define in class that is not the case.  I do agree with Long in that culture can be a metaphor.  there is no one object that a person can look at and concretely say "That is culture."  It is the ideas, believes, living style, language, food, and practices of populations of humans around the world, which is culture.  It can be small or large scale, the difference between those who live in America and those who live in Europe, the difference between those who live in Thurston Hall and those who live in Potomac.
               The only problem I have with Long's definition is that he says that it has to relate to God.  But why do all cultures have to relate to the one God that Christians believe in.  Is Muslim not a culture with their own God Allah, in which to relate their beliefs to? I do not think that all culture should be related to the one Christian God.  Everyone has their own beliefs and sometimes this defines a culture.  If you would like to respond to my post please comment on it, if you would like to post a new idea, to take the topic in a new direction or if you have a totally different meaning of culture, please make a new post.  Because I am moderating this week I feel this system would be most efficient.

****Caitlin Costa

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Various Cool Things from The Huffington Post

So two things relevant to our conversation have come up recently at The Huffington Post, and I thought you might be interested, so I am linking you to them.

1) A pictorial calendar of religious holidays. This is cool because it gives you a sense of what religions, lots of different religions, look like and the holidays that they celebrate. There are big ones here (like Easter or Yom Kippur), but there are also smaller holidays that you might not know about unless you practice a particular religion or have studied it extensively. Thus, this is a good introduction. It's also a moment to think about  the term "text" more broadly as Robert Adams hints at in your homework reading when he wants to expand the term "science fiction" to include the "texts" of Star Wars, a film, as well as various other television shows, musical compositions, graphic novels, and plastic art pieces. This broader definition of "text"is one that we will be using in class frequently, so here is another chance to examine multiple "texts," in the form of photographs, from multiple religions.

2) Peter Ens has a brief article once again revisiting the evolution-Evangelical conflict. We touched on this briefly when we watched The Big Bang Theory and then again when we discussed the Conflict paradigm in the relationship between religion and science. We will inevitably return to this conflict when we talk more directly about evolution. For now, here is another moment for you to enter the conversation.

Feel free to post any thoughts you might have about either.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why Do So Many People Have Trouble with Evolution?

This is the title of an article that is up today at NPR. The author avoids the problem that we addressed in class: that science and religion must be in conflict with one another, and takes another approach instead.  He says,

"The problem seems to be related to the age-old God-of-the-Gaps agenda, that the more we understand of the world the less room there is for a creator God. This is bad theology, as it links belief to the development of science."

What do you think about this?

Monday, January 9, 2012

What Occupy can learn from The Hunger Games

Since we have been talking about The Hunger Games I am putting up this link to a very good article over at Salon.com about the relationship between dystopian stories and the Occupy movement. I think you might find it very interesting.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Hunger Games

Over Christmas Break, I read the entire Hunger Games Trilogy. These books ignited something in me that I had not felt in a long time--that feeling that you get when you realize that  as you have been reading something you have held your breath and suddenly have to remind yourself to let it out.

I. Loved. These. Books.

But why am I mentioning them here? There is nothing about religion or even really about science within them, right? Well, not exactly. But there will be more on that later in the course, as The Hunger Games will make quite the showing later on. For now, here's a trailer for the upcoming movie...and I can't wait to talk more about this story with you. But for now, let's get that conversation started. Have any of you read the books? If so, what did you think of them and why?