Inquisitive Minds Podcast Critical Thinking on History, Religion, Politics and Culture

We continue our discussion of Hector Avalos' book, Fighting Words. The Origins of Religious Violence. Scholars have a social responsibility to denounce false reasoning when it comes to religion and violence; expose lies which contribute to the detriment of humanity. For example, several biblical scholars and most Bible believers maintain the relevance of their sacred text through "hermeneutical gymnastics", by offering "new" interpretations of ethically questionable biblical texts despite the fact of misrepresenting their content. It is also often thought that scholars should not be critical when it comes to certain religious / theological beliefs and practices; but such a stance in the context of the university would be unique, since all scholarly fields should normally adopt a critical perspective in research. According to Avalos, biblical and religion scholars are responsible to "analyze how religion may contribute to the detriment or well-being of humanity based on verifiable facts and reason."

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In our new series dedicated to the Religion and Violence, we will be discussing Hector Avalos' relevant book: Fighting Words. The Origins of Religious Violence (Prometheus, 2005). Is religion is prone to violence? What are different theories of violence and how does one define religion? Is religion the cause of all violence? If not, what are the differences between religious violence and secular violence? According to Avalos, religion causes violence when it creates scarce resources. As a result, the benefits of that religion are not equally distributed among everyone, and this is what essentially lies at the root of religious violence.

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As a follow-up to last weeks episode, we continue our discussion on the value of critical thinking. But one might ask: What exactly is critical thinking and what are the steps of inquiry needed to engage in such a practice? When tackling specific questions, people need to go beyond the descriptive and carefully analyse the topic at hand through the use of a coherent methodology, as well as to evaluate the outcome of any given inquiry. Failing to identify the implications of our reasoning is the most common mistake when attempting to apply critical thinking.

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At the start of the academic year, we decided to talk about the importance of critical thinking in the context of the university. Each semester, professors need to remind students that university life is designed to help them engage in the critical examination of a wide range of topics, some of which deal with various ways of thinking and diverse human experiences. This is especially true when it comes to topics such as religion and / or theological studies. In the context of a secular university, students are expected to learn how to think critically about different belief systems, ritual practices and experiences which are deemed religious. University classes are not to be faith-based, but rather fact-based. Critical thinkers are not afraid to have their preconceptions challenged. The university is a place where people can expand their minds and get a broad perspective on life.

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This week on the Inquisitive Minds Podcast (episode 12), we are concluding our discussion on Gnosticism. In this podcast, we will see how scholars have been defining Gnosticism, to the point where some would argue for dismantling the entire category. Should scholars still use the term and category of "Gnosticism"? If not, is there another way to conceptualize such an idea? Is it time to revisit and refine how scholars have defined Gnosis in the past? Can Gnosis be understood as a mood or worldview espoused by different religious and / or philosophical groups in Antiquity? 

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In the past few years, scholars of early Christian history have sharply disagreed on whether or not Gnosticism is a valid category to describe the diversity of early Christian beliefs and practices. As we now know, early Christianity was not a monolithic religion. This is why many scholars prefer to use the expression "Early Christianities". Believers had many divergent perspectives on the person of Jesus, the creation of the world, the identity of the "true" god, the means of salvation, and the value of the Jewish tradition - just to name a few. These differences caused many tensions and rivalries between the various Christian groups in Late Antiquity, and this is where Gnosticism comes into play. This week on the Inquisitive Minds Podcast, we will examine how scholars explain "Gnosticism" and the related idea of "Gnosis" (knowledge or insight). If Gnosticism is not a viable category as some scholars argue, should we not simply drop the expression? Is there any evidence of Gnosticism at the the turn of the first century CE or prior to that time period? Which ancient religious texts can be considered as Gnostic? How was Gnosis understood by philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle? These are some of the questions we will explore on this Monday's episode.

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In this last podcast dedicated to Hector Avalos' book The End of Biblical Studies, we examine the final three chapters (7-10) which look at the role academia, learned societies, and the media play in trying to promote the idea that the Bible is still relevant today. We also discuss how the author's critical assessment resonates with our own experience as biblical scholars. After several weeks discussing this book, we hope that listeners understand and appreciate the significance of Dr. Avalos' important work.

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This is the fourth installment of our discussion of Hector Avalos' book The End of Biblical Studies. This week we focus on the chapters dealing with Literary Criticism (Ch. 5) and Biblical Theology (Ch. 6). Dr. Avalos rightly remarks that, "literary aesthetics are still being used as the handmaiden of apologetics" (p. 220). As for biblical theology, it is truly an impossible enterprise. The Bible contains many theological discourses; so which biblical theology should one embrace? There is no one unified theology; rather, there are many theologies. This is why, "biblical theology is a thoroughly religionist endeavor" (p. 250). 

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This is our third episode dedicated to Hector Avalos' book The End of Biblical Studies. In chapter 3, Prof. Avalos discusses History and Archaeology and remarks that, "at the heart of the entire debate about whether one can write a history of ancient Israel is an epistemological problem that is besetting all of archaeology and history. Historians and archaeologists have lost confidence in examining the past objectively." (p.111). We will also see how biblical scholars face similar problems when it comes to the study of the historical Jesus.

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This week we are continuing our discussion of Hector Avalos', The End of Biblical Studies. We will examine his chapters on Translation and Textual Criticism. Speaking of biblical translation, Prof. Avalos says that "the Bible is best maintained by using translation to hide and distort the original meaning of the text, in order to provide the illusion that the information and values conveyed by the biblical authors are compatible with those of the modern world." (p.37). As for textual criticism, "there is no longer any strong rationale", according to Avalos, "for why textual criticism, as a discipline, should matter to those outside communities of faith, or even to communities of faith themselves." (p.66).

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