16.11.14

Red Handed

Millennialist beliefs and the Northern Ireland 'Troubles'. Compare with this recently reviewed book.

Joshua T. Searle. The Scarlet Woman and the Red Hand: Evangelical Apocalyptic Belief in the Northern Ireland Troubles. Lutterworth Press (27 Nov 2014)

This book provides a comprehensive description of how evangelicals in Northern Ireland interpreted the "Troubles" (1966-2007) in the light of how they read the Bible. The rich and diverse landscape of Northern Irish evangelicalism during the "Troubles" is ideally suited to this study of both the light and dark sides of apocalyptic eschatology. Searle demonstrates how the notion of apocalypse shaped evangelical and fundamentalist interpretations of the turbulent events that characterized this dark yet fascinating period in the history of Northern Ireland.
 
The book uses this case study to offer a timely reflection on some of the most pressing issues in contemporary negotiations between culture and religion. Given the current resurgence of religious fundamentalism in the wake of 9/11, together with popular conceptions of a "clash of civilizations" and the so-called War on Terror, this book is not only an engaging academic study; it also resonates with some of the defining cultural issues of our time.
 

10.11.14

The Chosen Planet?

Owen Gingerich, Randy Isaac. God's Planet. Harvard University Press (19 Nov 2014)

With exoplanets being discovered daily, Earth is still the only planet we know of that is home to creatures who seek a coherent explanation for the structure, origins, and fate of the universe, and of humanity s place within it. Today, science and religion are the two major cultural entities on our planet that share this goal of coherent understanding, though their interpretation of evidence differs dramatically. Many scientists look at the known universe and conclude we are here by chance.

The renowned astronomer and historian of science Owen Gingerich looks at the same evidence along with the fact that the universe is comprehensible to our minds and sees it as proof for the planning and intentions of a Creator-God. He believes that the idea of a universe without God is an oxymoron, a self-contradiction. God's Planet exposes the fallacy in thinking that science and religion can be kept apart.

Gingerich frames his argument around three questions: Was Copernicus right, in dethroning Earth from its place at the center of the universe? Was Darwin right, in placing humans securely in an evolving animal kingdom? And was Hoyle right, in identifying physical constants in nature that seem singularly tuned to allow the existence of intelligent life on planet Earth? Using these episodes from the history of science, Gingerich demonstrates that cultural attitudes, including religious or antireligious beliefs, play a significant role in what passes as scientific understanding. The more rigorous science becomes over time, the more clearly God's handiwork can be comprehended."


7.11.14

Evidence for Psi

Edited by Damien Broderick and Ben Goertzel: Evidence for Psi; Thirteen Empirical Research Reports. McFarland. October 2014.

“Psi” is the term used by researchers for a variety of demonstrable but elusive psychic phenomena. This collection of essays provides a detailed survey of the evidence for psi at the level of scientific examination.

Key features of apparent psi phenomena are reviewed, including precognition and remote perception (knowledge of future or distant events that cannot be inferred from present information), presentiment (physiological responses to stimuli that have not yet occurred), the effects of human emotions on globally dispersed machines, the possible impact of local sidereal time on psi performance, and the familiar feeling of knowing who is calling on the phone.

Special attention is given to those phenomena that make it difficult for scientists to get a clear understanding of psi. The body of psi research, while complex and frustrating, is shown to contain sufficiently compelling positive evidence to convince the rational open-minded observer that psi is real, and that one or more physical processes probably underlie observed psi phenomena.


6.11.14

Dead Cert

This looks like a nice collection of Forteana and general weirdness!

Chris Woodyard. Victorian Book of the Dead. Kestrel Publications. (September 2014)

Chris Woodyard, author of the The Ghosts of the Past series, digs through long-buried newspapers and journals, for this fascinating look at the 19th-century obsession with the culture of death. The Victorian Book of the Dead unearths extraordinary tales of Victorian funeral fads and fancies, ghost stories, bizarre deaths, mourning novelties, gallows humour, premature burial, post-mortem photographs, death omens, and funeral disasters. Resurrected from original sources, these accounts reveal the oddities and eccentricities of Victorian mourning. Packed with macabre anecdotes, this diverting, yet gruesome collection presents tales ranging from the paranormal and shocking to the heart-breaking. Some of the stories in The Victorian Book of the Dead

*mourning bicycles, black boudoirs, and sable cigarettes for the up-to-date widow
*a child ghost who beckoned for her father to follow her into death
*black dogs and shrieking banshee who foretold death and disaster
*the widow who fired the undertaker who would not give her trading stamps.
*a corpse that spontaneously combusted in the coffin
*the fiendish parrot who murdered his mistress
*The petrified corpse furniture created by Professor Segato
*visions of the Grim Reaper and the Angel of Death
*the man who lived in the tomb of his wife
*A mourning wreath made from the hair of a murdered family
*interviews with undertakers, post-mortem photographers and morgue attendants And many more tales from the crypts.
 

4.11.14

Call of the Trance

An examination of a topic that underlies much of what we discuss in Magonia

Catherine Clemént. The Call of the Trance. Seagull Books. (October 2014)

The Call of the Trance is a magnificent book that takes us to the uncharted frontiers of the forbidden. From initiation ceremonies to crises of hysteria, from suicide attempts to the ecstasies of witches, Catherine Clément explores in simple but scholarly terms the responses that civilizations have offered to the humanistic need for escape from the body. These “eclipses” from life and reality, pursued by people across cultures, are elusive and invariably inexpressible.

Clément details this phenomenon through the past and the present, from the witches of Loudun to current Mongolian shamans and from the eighteenth-century convulsionaries of Saint-Médard to Greeks of today, who follow in the footsteps of their earlier practices. Along the way, she questions the countless ways humans push back the limits of the mind and body, and she shows how, from Dionysian antiquity to our own day, the ecstasy of the trance state shows up in anorexia, rock music, rap, sexual reassignment, eroticism, and even Twilight-style vampire stories.


2.11.14

Heaven's Gate

Benjamin E. Zeller. Heaven's Gate: America's UFO Religion. New York University Press. October 31, 2014.

In March 1997, thirty-nine people in Rancho Santa Fe, California, ritually terminated their lives. To outsiders, it was a mass suicide. To insiders, it was a graduation. This act was the culmination of over two decades of spiritual and social development for the members of Heaven’s Gate, a religious group focused on transcending humanity and the Earth, and seeking salvation in the literal heavens on board a UFO. In this fascinating overview, Benjamin Zeller not only explores the question of why the members of Heaven’s Gate committed ritual suicides, but interrogates the origin and evolution of the religion, its appeal, and its practices.

By tracking the development of the history, social structure, and worldview of Heaven’s Gate, Zeller draws out the ways in which the movement was both a reflection and a microcosm of larger American culture.The group emerged out of engagement with Evangelical Christianity, the New Age movement, science fiction and UFOs, and conspiracy theories, and it evolved in response to the religious quests of baby boomers, new religions of the counterculture, and the narcissistic pessimism of the 1990s. Thus, Heaven’s Gate not only reflects the context of its environment, but also reveals how those forces interacted in the form of a single religious body.


29.10.14

Free Will Hunting

Alfred R. Mele. Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will. Oxford University Press. (November 13 2014)

Does free will exist? The question has fuelled heated debates spanning from philosophy to psychology and religion. The answer has major implications, and the stakes are high. To put it in the simple terms that have come to dominate these debates, if we are free to make our own decisions, we are accountable for what we do, and if we aren't free, we're off the hook.

There are neuroscientists who claim that our decisions are made unconsciously and are therefore outside of our control and social psychologists who argue that myriad imperceptible factors influence even our minor decisions to the extent that there is no room for free will. According to philosopher Alfred R. Mele, what they point to as hard and fast evidence that free will cannot exist actually leaves much room for doubt. If we look more closely at the major experiments that free will deniers cite, we can see large gaps where the light of possibility shines through.