Philosophy and Religion News Digest 15th November 2014

Really good mix of stories this week, thanks to @Welly_Library:

Ghosts created by scientists in ‘disturbing’ lab experiment


Pope Francis appoints first Briton as Vatican foreign minister


Floods and famines may have helped spark belief in gods, study suggests


Google cuts 200,000 links under ‘right to be forgotten’


Mormons confront uncomfortable history of church founder’s polygamy


‘Miraculous’ Battle of Waterloo crucifix found four years after it was stolen


Vice principal of ‘Muslim Eton’ for girls ‘sacked for opposing veil rules’

Let Muslim primary school teachers wear full-face veil in class – Rowan Williams


Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy, Religion

Philosophy and Religion News Digest 7th of November 2014

A few interesting stories this week; love the Pope Star:

Britain’s spy chief says US tech firms aid terrorism

Mothers who drink while pregnant could face legal proceedings following test case

Prince of Wales’s plea to Muslims over Christian persecution

Pope idol: Sister Cristina Scuccia and The Voice of Italy

Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy, Religion

Philosophy and Religion news digest October 11th 2014

Here are this week’s news stories, thanks to @Welly_Library. I’m fascinated by the chimp case in the New York courts at the moment – it has the potential to have a major impact on legal and ethical thinking.

Egg-freezing should be available to all UK women, experts urge

Desperately seeking sperm donors

Two opinion pieces on changing surname after marriage:

Why take his name when I already have one of my own?

Men: would you take your wife’s surname?

John Boyne: ‘The Catholic priesthood blighted my youth and the youth of people like me’

Pope Francis opens synod that could define his papacy

Belgium and Netherlands plan to approve ‘bio cremations’

National Crime Agency director general: UK snooping powers are too weak

Tate and oil: does the art world need to come clean about sponsorship?

Tommy the circus chimp is a ‘person’ entitled to his liberty, US court told

Cancer sufferer: Why I’m choosing to die on Nov 1 aged 29

Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy, Religion

Teaching Philosophy as Teaching Vocabulary

I’ve been thinking recently about my practice as a teacher of philosophy and religion. I teach a lot of philosophy of religion, though it probably isn’t my own main academic interest. One thing that strikes me about this discipline in particular is how much specific vocabulary it has generated that is either alien or mostly alien to everyday life. To delve into the long-running debates in the history of the philosophy of religion, you need to develop a fairly substantial glossary that is internalised and accessible, and you have to know how the different words and themes interplay with one another.

You might want to talk about ‘eternal’ Vs. ‘everlasting’, which also sends you over to ideas about ‘classical’ theism, or a ‘supreme’ being, and of course takes you on to a problem like God’s ‘omniscience’ (e.g. does that include ‘divine foreknowledge’?).

When you are inducting a true novice into this kind of field, I suppose that it is tempting to ease off the vocabulary, given the understandable fear that it is off-putting and unfamiliar. All teachers fear that they will turn the students off their subjects.

I’m not so sure that’s the right approach, however.

The limits of my words …

It’s ironic that we remember Wittgenstein for his comment about our understanding being limited to our language: “the limits of my words are the limits of my world”. Wittgenstein is also known for deflating philosophical problems, in that they can be a trick of language taken out of context. I suppose you could say that words help us to understand problems that may not be ‘real’ problems in the sense Wittgenstein was getting at. It’s an interesting question whether it’s really worth someone’s while getting to know the philosophy of religion, but that’s another problem for another day.

Still, sticking with the point about vocabulary and understanding, I’ve come to appreciate some pretty old fashioned ways of going ahead with teaching and learning. Specifically, I have learned to love vocabulary lists and tests. I think that these are enormously powerful and sometimes under-rated by teachers of conceptual subjects like philosophy. In this case, words are concepts, and if you have mastery of them you can do things with concepts. Any decent discussion, for example, has to be built upon a solid foundation of language.

I have become really picky, therefore, about my students using subject language when they explain things in class. They have to be precise about agnosticism, atheism, igtheism and not mix them up into a murky soup of ‘unbelief’. I emphasise missing vocabulary when I give feedback on their writing and give praise when it’s present.

The vocabulary legacy

Another great advantage of this, I suspect (ok, have no hard evidence for), is that vocabulary will probably stay with a student years after they have finished their studies in philosophy. For example, to remember the sequence of premises in a particular argument might be quite difficult. To remember how you would analyse the objections to a certain theory would be tough, give years down the line. But what about a single word? Will words like ‘transcendence’ or ‘dualism’ fall by the wayside?

Probably not.

If I remember my own studies in politics aged 16-18, which I took quite intensively and then stopped, the main things I have retained are snippets of words and phrases. I cannot remember the different stages of a bill passing into law. I can remember, however, some of the language of political science and the distinctions it enables me to draw: executive, legislature, judiciary, and so on. It was invaluable for me to acquire that language at that time, and to a good extent it has stuck.

Perhaps a good grounding in philosophical vocabulary could leave a strong legacy for people to think in philosophical terms after they have gone on from formal studies. Perhaps.

Vocabulary as thinking

Certainly, there are some words in philosophy which, to understand them at all, require a lot of preparatory thinking. A good example would be Dennett’s heterophenomenology. If you understand what this word means (the ability to understand what it is like for somebody else to have experiences), then you have already done a lot of spade work to get to that definition. If you pitch words at the right level, you are asking students to think their way to that word. Make it progressive and staged, make it challenging, and the humble word list can drag along someone’s cognitive abilities quite impressively. To knock this kind of approach as ‘regurgitation’ (a classic teaching insult) would be to miss the point.

As is the case with so many educational tools, this kind of ‘rote learning’ gets a bad name because it has (a) not been understood properly, and (b) not been skilfully used. For my part, I am happy to call myself a ‘progressive’ teacher and still make use of some pretty old tools. But perhaps this kind of example makes a mockery of the whole traditional / progressive distinction.

Good teaching is good teaching.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Philosophy, Religion

Philosophy and Religion News Digset 3rd October 2014

Here’s this week’s news digest, thanks to @Welly_Library:

Schoolgirl jihadis: the female Islamists leaving home to join Isis fighters

Maldives will censor all books to protect Islamic codes

Blasphemy laws are deadly serious – we must stand up for Mohammed Asghar- Frankie Boyle

Iranian who doubted Jonah story hanged

Surrogacy boom in Mexico brings tales of missing money and stolen eggs

High court judge deliberates ruling on child with severe brain damage

Grasp future and give robots legal status , EU is told

This attitude to freedom leaves us all in chains – The activists that closed down an art installation don’t see that attacking others’ free expression Jeopardises their own

The Right Rev Donald Arden – Long-serving bishop who promoted indigenous priests in Africa and pioneered the cultivation of pineapples in Swaziland

Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized

Philosophy and Religion news digest 29th September 2014

Here’s this week’s news digest – interesting to see links between football and religion, as I saw a lot of this at the world cup.


Aston Villa’s Kieran Richardson: after football I want to do things for God


Arrests over the Happy dance video in Iran reflect hardliners’ frustration


Test destroys argument for ritual slaughter of animals


The myth of religious violence

Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy, Religion

Philosophy and Religion News Digest 19th September 2014

Here’s this weeks Philosophy and Religion news digest, thanks to @Welly_Library

Bookmakers sign up to voluntary watchdog

Iran detains UK citizen over ban on women watching sports alongside men

Cardinals warn Pope against remarried Communion ban reform

Archbishop Justin Welby’s doubt in God welcomed in Bristol

Secretive ex-billionaire Chuck Feeney gives away the last of his fortune to educate Northern Irish children

Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy, Religion