In this thought-provoking interview, Professor François Gauthier from the University of Fribourg gives his remarks on a variety of theoretical, methodological, and empirical issues in social sciences. It would be impossible to cover even a tenth of those issues within the limits of this brief article, so I will restrict my response to two themes only: defining religion and critiquing secularization theory and post-secularity.
Hasan al-Sabbah, the Lord of Alamut, and Morpheus from The Matrix
Note: There might be few spoilers in this post!
Last week I finally finished reading Valdimir Bartol’s and Slovenia’s most well-known literary work: the novel of Alamut. As I mentioned in my previous post, the novel is based on the historical legend of the Assassins: the radical Muslim sect that terrorized in the 12th and 13th centuries the Crusaders and local Muslims rulers in Iran and Syria with their assassinating daggers. According to the legend, Hasan al-Sabbah—the sect’s founder, ideologue, and military commander—used hashish to trick his would-be assassins to believe that he held the keys to Paradise, which transformed them into blind followers willing to embrace death instantly and unconditionally. The novel, however, is not limited to themes of murder, sexual lust, and religious manipulation. It is also an intellectual work that delves deeply into human beings’ conflicting quests for faith and doubt; for meaning and knowledge; for power and morality. Bartol draws on his knowledge of various currents of thought ranging from the philosophies of ancient Greece, through Nietzsche and Freud, to totalitarianism.
The cover for Black Sabbath’s single: God is Dead?
My previous post in this blog, Behind the Western Horizon, was perhaps very emotional and cathartic. It might have been the stress that I came under during preceding two weeks, when I often spent more than 12 hours each day in my office—staying sometimes past midnight—researching when, why, and how people choose to believe or disbelieve. So in a moment of personal fragility, I wrote down whatever thoughts and questions were “moshing” inside the walls of my exhausted head.
Today I noticed that these thoughts, interestingly, resonate with the lyrics of a song from Black Sabbath’s latest album 13, which I have been listening to very often—almost daily—during the past month. When I wrote my previous post, I wasn’t particularly thinking of that song, which is for me very aptly titled God is Dead? (note the question mark!) But it seems that metal music, as usual, speaks for me—at least with respect to religious themes—even when I don’t try consciously to relate my own thoughts about religion to it. This time, however, I will try to use the lyrics of this song to talk about some issues related to religion and belief.
The only blog in the internet that I follow closely is Peter Berger’s, who is an American renowned sociologist of religion. Most of his blog posts revolve around issues related to the “culture wars” in the United States of America, in which religion is almost invariably strongly present. The culture wars cover a wide range of issues, such as creationism vs. evolutionism, pro-choice vs. pro-life, supporters of same-sex marriage vs. those who opposite, and the like.
In his latest post, Berger refers to the support given by some American large corporations, such as Microsoft and Starbucks, to a bill in Washington State to legalize same-sex marriage and the negative reaction against this support by some Evangelical pastors and conservative activists. Berger wonders about the real motivations behind such “political correctness”: Are they straightforward commercial interests (i.e. a desire to win more customers in a large “gay market” of, say, coffee drinkers or computer users) or is it a matter of class and cultural elitism?