Baha’i Temple, Ingleside, Sydney.
Today is New Year for millions of people around the world. 21 March marks the equinox and also one of the most ancient festivals still celebrated today – Naw Ruz. This festival is celebrated throughout central, western and southern Asia, the Balkans and the Caucasus.
The reason that I am celebrating it is because it is also a holy day for Baha’is. It marks the end of the annual nineteen day fast. The Baha’i Fast is a period of spiritual reflection for Baha’is. It is an opportunity to replenish one’s spiritual batteries.
I really felt that I needed the Fast this year and was looking forward to it so much that I started my reading for the Fast early. During February I had become bogged down in my reading and probably a bit jaded at life. I needed the spiritual boost that the Fast gives.
Aside from reading the Holy Writings, I read several books about the Baha’i principle of equality between women and men.
Women and men have been and will always be equal in the sight of God.”
Baha’u'llah is the Founder of the Baha’i Faith. As you can see from the above quote, the equality between women and men is a foundational principle of the Baha’i Faith.
It had been years since I had read extensively about this Baha’i principle and given that it has animated so much of my views on the subject and my participation in initiatives such as the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge, I chose this to be the theme of my reading during the Baha’i Fast. I read three books, one of which I have read before, however it is the end of the Fast and I haven’t finished reading any any of them. For this reason I hesitate to call this a book review. Rather this post is a summary of my reading journal for the Fast. Continue reading
A hockey stick used by my mother at school in country Victoria during the mid 1950s with signatures of the 1928 Indian Olympic hockey team (the blue and yellow grip was added in the late 1970s).
Chinese-Australian history was well covered at the Australian Historical Association Conference but when I reviewed my conference notes I realised that a number of the sessions I attended were about the relationship between India and Australia. I have only dabbled in this history during a seminar in my honours year, but increasingly I feel drawn to learn more. Indians have lived in Australian since colonial times and the two countries have a strong historical association due to being fellow members of the British Empire. Aside from these specific associations, my interest in secularism draws me to Indian history. Leading researchers in this area recommend attention be given to the manner in which India has dealt with religion and state.
It was fitting that the keynote presentation was delivered by an authority in Indian colonial era history, Professor Sir Christopher Bayly of the University of Cambridge. He gave a comparative overview of the two countries, titled ‘India and Australia: Distant Connections’. He noted that the original peoples of both countries were subjugated and land appropriated by the colonial conquerors and that both countries experienced violence – between settlers and Aboriginal people in Australia and in India, the Rebellion of 1857. The English legal system used in both countries had difficulty accommodating the native peoples because evidence under oath was traditionally only accepted from Christian witnesses.
Bayly commented that Australian self-government became an ‘icon’ for Indians agitating for independence. However, Australia was a flawed icon in Indian eyes as they read about Australia’s treatment of Aborigines. In questions afterwards, Bayly noted that the colonial era Calcutta newspapers had a significant amount of news about Australia, more so than another significant member of the empire – Canada. Why was this? There were significant shipping connections between Australia and India. Continue reading
Some of the presenters at the Religious History Association conference: Diane Hall, Pamela Welch, Howard Le Couteur, Susan Mary Withycombe (chairperson of a session) , Hilary Carey and Noel Derbyshire.
“Religious historians have an important role to play in resisting grand narratives of secularism and modernisations”, stated Professor Hilary Carey at the commencement of the Religious History Association Conference last week. “Instead of a single path to modernity there are many”, she argued while encouraging historians of religion to engage with this insight of post-modernism. “What interests the postmodern scholar is not the discovery of points of truth… but rather the relationships between propositions and how they are structured and given legitimacy”.
As I discussed in my first post about the Religious History Association conference, the secularisation thesis argues that religion will die out with advancing modernisation but this foundational theory of many academic disciplines is now being heavily scrutinised. As can be seen in Carey’s discussion, many are starting to see this theory as too simplified and failing to fit the historical evidence of the last two hundred years. Historians need to revisit the history of secularism and religion in order to provide the evidence which will develop a better, more sophisticated theory, or maybe debunk it altogether. Thus the theme of the conference, Secularism and History, has an urgency and relevance that is evident in the life of Australia today. Carey referred to the recent High Court decision about chaplaincy in schools. This was an issue because religious belief is still an active agent in our society today – something that the secularisation thesis would suggest should have almost disappeared by now.
The papers that I heard presented at the recent Religious History Association conference in Adelaide reflected the spirit of Carey’s comments well. They discussed religion in society and the intersection between religion and secularism. In my first post about this conference I discussed the papers that engaged with the philosophical issues currently being raised in relation to the secularisation thesis. In this post I will share with you the presentations that focussed on religion and secularism in its historical context. Continue reading
Confucianism: religion or a philosophy? Statue of Confucius in the grounds of the University of Adelaide
All week I am attending the Australian Historical Association Conference in Adelaide. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post this conference is really four conferences in one. I have been mostly attending the Religious History Association conference which concluded today. This post gives a brief introduction to some profound philosophical debates about religion and secularism and how these debates were addressed in the papers presented at this conference.
The secularisation thesis has underpinned the work of much of the humanities and social sciences since the nineteenth century. This theory proposes that religion will die out with the increasing modernisation of society (for further explanation see the introduction to Sacred and Secular by Inglehart and Norris). This theory is under intense scrutiny because it would be reasonable to expect that if the secularisation thesis holds then in many western societies religion would have virtually disappeared by now. As religion is still a force in the west the question is whether the theory is incorrect or whether it needs to be reframed in a more nuanced manner.
To discuss the secularisation thesis we need to be able to understand the nature of both secularisation and it’s binary opposite, religion. I have touched on the meaning of secular in an earlier post, but what is religion? This has proven to be very difficult, and I would argue, virtually impossible to define.
While these debates are relevant and discussed by other disciplines, the historical record is crucial to understanding what is occurring. The theme of this week’s Religious History Association conference is very topical. Continue reading
Imprisoned in Iran for working at the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education.
Imagine that you, and all those who are like you, are forbidden by the government to undertake further education after finishing school. Perhaps you did well at school, but once your identity became known to your teachers they told you that it was a shame – why don’t you change? You see your friends go onto university – some with school results that were not as good as yours. They commence a new life, talking about what they would do in the future. Gradually their lives become very separate from yours.
What do you do in these circumstances? The government have jailed your community’s leaders on spurious charges that human rights organisations and parliaments around the world have condemned. Many other members of your community have been arrested on dubious charges, released on payment of exorbitant bail, and live with the knowledge that any time, anywhere, they may be re-arrested. Your community’s members are banned from government employment, essential business licences are hard to come by. Your community’s children are harassed by teachers at school, cemeteries used by your community are desecrated, the media is filled with messages of hate towards your community. This has been occurring for over 30 years.
You have left school, are banned from further education and are a member of a persecuted community. What do you do?