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Posts from the ‘Religious Studies’ Category

Massively open spirit?

MIT and Harvard University recently announced a new venture in online education, called edX, in which they will offer free online courses from both universities.  With this they are entering the realm of what is being called “MOOC” – massively open online courses.  (And I thought UUs were bad about acronyms!) MIT began this by offering a course in March on Circuits and Electronics which drew in 120,000 participants, some 10,000 of whom passed the midterm exam. The courses will provide certifications, but not official credit.  For those types of courses not easily “graded” (such as humanities courses) they will offer peer review.  Read more

The New American Haggadah and the New American Spirituality

I have always found the phenomenon of secular Jewish spiritual practice to be particularly poignant.  So deep is the Jewish identity and practice embedded in some people’s lives, and yet how disconnected from organized religious practice.  I believe it is the forerunner of contemporary spiritual expression, and reveals some interesting divergent directions of where people wish to take their faith.

Two novelists recently collaborated on writing a New American Haggadah  – Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander.  Foer grew up secular, but had wonderful memories of practicing seder as a child.  Englander did as well, though he grew up Orthodox.  Both desired to create a translation that would speak to their contemporary experience, while maintaining the beauty and majesty of the original text.  What they thought would be a short project (Englander says, “I thought we were making the Hipster Haggadah and it’d be six weeks or something and we’d be done) turned into a consuming project of several years.  The result is stunningly beautiful – visually, textually, experientially.

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“Whence suns and stars derive their orbits”

When the Western Unitarian Conference adopted their statement of purpose in 1886 they affirmed this:

“We worship One-in-All – that life whence suns and stars derive their orbits and the should of [hu]man its Ought, — that Light which lighteth every [person] that cometh into the world, giving us power to become the [children] of God, — that Love with which our souls commune.”

Think about how radical this must have sounded in 1886.  For the Western Unitarians they were making their break from a Christ-centered movement into something they felt reflected the new frontiers of American exploration (without remembering that Native Americans had already explored this “frontier”).  For them this was as much spiritual as geographic.  They wanted their religious life to be as expansive as the galaxy of sun and stars. Read more

The Decline of American congregations or the Rebirth of American Religiosity?

Hartford Seminary recently released a report on the changing nature of congregational life in America.  The FACT (Faith Communities Today) report outlines the findings of a ten-year study (2000 – 2010) that includes data collected from over 11,000 congregations in 120 denominations (Christian, Jewish and Muslim).

The tone of the report is decidedly gloomy: fewer people are attending congregations across denominations, despite efforts to revivify worship with contemporary music and social media connectivity.  With the exception of the tiny slice of mega-churches, congregations are becoming smaller and smaller, and more report that they seem outmoded and irrelevant to modern life. Read more