Thursday, February 28, 2008

An Islamic Reformation?

According to Islam, the goal of life is to submit and obey God. For the Muslim, this means obedience to God's revelation in the Qur'an. However, because many daily concerns are not addressed in the Qur'an, how does a Muslim know what God requires? To answer these types of questions Muslims turn to the example of Muhammad, as recorded in the hadith. Hadiths are reports of the actions, sayings, and teachings of the prophet. These hadiths are grouped into various collections, some more authoritative than others. Therefore, although theologically the Qur'an is more important to a Muslim, the hadiths are more influential in their day to day life.

The reliability of the hadiths have for the most part been unquestioned within Islam, that is, until now.

In a recent BBC story it is reported that the Turkish Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned theologians at the Ankara University to study the hadiths and provide a revised edition of the collection. The Turkish government and the leading theologians in Turkey believe that many of the hadiths are not authentic and that they obscure the true teachings of Islam. They argue that many of the hadiths have taken on "cultural baggage" that is passed off as true Islam. According to the Turkish government, these inauthentic hadiths often have negative influence on Muslim societies.

It is difficult to say exactly how much this will affect the Muslim world; however, it is certain that if this new revised edition of the hadiths begins to be used around the world, Islam will begin to look much differently. Also, as with the Protestant Reformation, we could see a division within the Muslim world between those who accept the new collection of hadiths and those who will hold on to the old. Only time will tell.

Here is the link to the BBC story:

Monday, February 18, 2008

What is a cult?

The term "cult" is widely used in our culture today. The problem is that not everybody means the same thing when they use the word. In popular culture, the term cult brings up the image of a small religous group with a charismatic leader that "brainwashes" his followers into living an aberrant lifestyle, often involving weird sexual practices and resorting to physical violence. Usually people think of the Peoples' Temple, the Branch Davidians, and Heaven's Gate.

In addition to this popular definition you also have theological and sociological definitions of a "cult." In some religious circles, the term "cult" is used of groups that have unorthodox theology. For example, in the Evangelical Christian tradition, the organization of the Jehovah's Witnesses is understood as a cult since it claims to have sole access to God and because it claims to follow the Bible, yet denies orthodox Christian beliefs.

Sociologists and scholars of new religious movements tend to reject the term "cult" altogether because of its pejorative connotations. Instead, they use the term "New Religious Movements." However, the term still may be useful in the cult-sect-church paradigm. In this framework, a "cult" is a minority religious group which is in high tension with society at large. A "sect" is a group which experiences less tension and is usually an offshoot of a "church." A "church" then is a religious group which is fully accepted by society. Under this definition, for example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was a "cult" in the nineteenth century but today is more of a "church" in American society.

Do you think using the term "cult" is still useful? If so, how would you define it?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Religious images and icons.

I am currently taking a seminar on Hinduism and one of the issues we were discussing was the use of aniconic and iconic images within Hinduism. As would be expected, not all Hindus understand these images in the same way. For some, they are mere symbols that point to the gods, while for others they are "temples" where the gods reside during religious rituals. In any case, the images are meant to help the devotees focus on the gods and receive blessings as they bring their offerings.

This brings me to my question: Do you use religous images or icons in your religious devotion? If so, how do you use them and what do they mean to you? (Post pictures if you have them)