Sunday, October 07, 2012

What Does It Mean to Be Human: I'm Not Religious, I'm Spiritual - The New York Salon at The New School

Interesting discussion. Here's a little background from their NY Salon page:
Around 80 per cent of Americans identify with a religious denomination – overwhelmingly Christian – while 40 per cent say they attend weekly services and 58 per cent pray at least once a week. This high level of religious observance, symbolised by America’s bustling ‘megachurches’, is unique in the developed world. And from raging debates about creationism to political candidates proclaiming their religious convictions, religion seems to be at the centre of American life. Significantly, though, those under 30 are less religious than ever before. Moreover, professor of religion Stephen Prothero suggests there is enormous ‘religious illiteracy’ in the US, particularly among young people. So does the persistence of high-profile religiosity mask a more profound decline in religious faith? And how does the turn to the spiritual fit into the picture? In Britain, numbers attending church have been decreasing continually in the postwar period, but there too there still seems to be a desire to have some kind of ‘spiritual’ outlook – often involving a pick-and-mix approach to eastern religions as well as Christianity itself.

Are authors like Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens right to argue religious Americans have been duped somehow into adopting irrational beliefs? Or is it the New Atheists who are to be pitied for their lack of belief in anything beyond themselves? Some argue there is a psychological, biological and emotional drive to feel some kind of resonance with something like the divine. Some have even suggested environmentalism is a new form of secular religion, and psychotherapy is an attempt to handle sin and confession in a scientific way. Others see both the decline of religious faith and its apparent revival (in the form of Islam as well as some types of Christianity) as a reflection of broader ideological developments in recent history, in particular a loss of faith in human progress. So is the rise of ‘spiritual’ sentiment just another expression of our religious nature as human beings, or is it something new? And is it to be welcomed as life-affirming, or challenged as a new form of superstition?

What Does It Mean to Be Human: I'm Not Religious, I'm Spiritual - The New York Salon at The New School

"I'm not religious—I'm spiritual" is a statement frequently heard on both sides of the Atlantic. But what does it mean? Is self-styled "spirituality" simply a different form of religion, or does it represent a fundamental departure from or even a threat to traditional religion? Some argue that humans have a psychological, biological, and emotional need for a connection with the divine, positing environmentalism as a new form of secular religion and psychotherapy as an attempt to handle sin and confession in a scientific way.

These issues are discussed in a panel moderated by Jean Smith, a director of The New York Salon. Panelists include:

- Matt Hutson, a former editor at Psychology Today. Hutson has a BS in Cognitive Neuroscience from Brown University and an MS in Science Writing from MIT. He has written for numerous publications, including Wired, Discover, and the New York Times. His first book, The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane, was published in April 2012.

- Courtney Bender, a specialist in contemporary American religion. Bender received her PhD in Sociology from Princeton University and her BA from Swarthmore College. Bender's works include The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination (2010) and Heaven's Kitchen: Practicing Religion at God's Love We Deliver (2003).

- Alan Miller, a director of The New York Salon, a forum for open interdisciplinary debate. Miller co-founded the Old Truman Brewery, a site dedicated to cultural activity in London, and served on The Arts Council's London Arts Board for several years. He is also a film director whose work has been broadcast internationally. Miller writes on cultural issues for several publications, including Spiked, Culture Wars, The American, and the Huffington Post.

- Sally Quinn, editor-in-chief, On Faith; journalist, Washington Post

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Location: Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, Arnhold Hall

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