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

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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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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A fundamentalist reading of the apparitions of Jesus tries to explain the conflicting accounts through harmonization; but the careful and critical reader quickly sees that this is simply an impossible task. These stories are not "historical" in nature, but rather "theological" (or ideological). The gospel writers clearly had an agenda; they wanted to convince people of their point of view. One way Christians sought to legitimize their claims about Jesus was through the use of the Hebrew Bible. In a sense, Jewish texts (but also other Greco-Roman stories) served as templates from which the gospel writers created their own stories about Jesus. In the podcast, we also try to understand belief in the resurrection from a cultural anthropological perspective, and briefly speak of how cognition and culture play a role in religious experience.

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This week on the Inquisitive Minds Podcast, we will start discussing The End of Biblical Studies (Prometheus) by Dr. Hector Avalos, a biblical scholar at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Iowa State University. 

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André Gagné and Brice Jones speak about their former religious backgrounds and escape from fundamentalism. Both discuss the social dynamics which shaped their former conversion experience and what has lead them to reconsider some aspects of their beliefs inconsistent with their experience of the world.

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We are happy to announce the launch of a new podcast entitled: Inquisitive MindsCritical Thinking on Religion, History, Culture and Science.

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