I was born into the Islamic faith, a sect of Shi’a called the Nizari Isma’ili community.
This is an important distinction that I will explore further.
Having dabbled in buddhism there was a time i felt comfortable with the description. ex-muslim.
But after some time, I’ve found my own esoteric interpretation of Isma’ilism, channeled through my art practice. As Artist, Lecturer and friend, Abbas Zahedi would say, ‘why don’t you switch it up, instead of ex-muslim, complex muslim…dunh kno.’
The process of decolonisation required considering the affect of eurocentricity on this turning away from Islamic culture. The shadow of assimilation lurks. Various creative and spiritual rituals are aided by through interventions from experienced Artistic and Psychodynamic practitioners.
I feel to challenge a key premise in ‘Religion in Britain: Challenges for Higher Education’; how can this nation be secular when our calendar is Christian?
Furthermore, from a linguistic point of view, the terms are peculiar. The public ‘celebrate’ a break from performing labour on “Bank holidays“. Meanwhile, “Bank Holiday” and “National Public Holiday” are used interchangeably to describe Christian celebrations (Easter/Christmas) speaks to a deliberate blurring of Capital, Faith and Nation.
As such, I believe the path of ‘secularisation’ described by both authors belies an act of normalising eurocentricity or western hegemony. There is something in mainstream co-option as an act of obfuscation. The normalisation of these events obscures and displaces.
Christmas as a calendar fixture, 25th December, has less to do with the birth of Jesus, and may have more to do with traditional Roman winter solstice of Saturnalia, an act of absorbtion/erasure/assimilation of Pagan customs into the Christian religion.
[Speculation] Easter & Christmas have roots in Paganism. the USA has 'In God we trust' written on its currency. Declining religious fervour, increasing financial fervour. Capital as the New religion.
Religion, belief and faith identities in learning and teaching
The good, the bad and the ugly.
TOO MUCH TEXT, GIVE ME SOME VIDEOS.
(Aside: I am so happy that some visual/audio resources have been provided)
“Professor Reina Lewis. Dress, Politics, and Belonging post-Brexit, 30 November 2016”
Love it. This is the sort of decolonial work I joined the academy for. I would love to watch more things like this. Eventually I will go over this resource and add the images and references to my personal archive for direct use when discussing the aesthetics of religion & religious garb.
The Bad & The Ugly,
On the flipside is Alain de Botton and the pop philosopher’s Atheism 2.0.
The crux of his argument is that the secular world is bereft of ideas and the solution lies in extracting and exploiting religion. Neo-colonialism from a contemporary pop philosopher comes as no real surprise for an individual who simultaneously claims to fight the cult of individualism, while being a founder of ‘The School of Life’. I’d like to sit there for a moment to consider the implication…founder….of the school of life….right…
A quick google of ‘Alain de Botton critique’ yields About 80,700 results (0.57 seconds).
“The empire of Alain de Botton – Financial Times”
I didn’t make it past the headline.
I have learnt from Alain first hand, I will take what I want (and leave the rest.
Religion is not fixed but fluid.
As such relations towards it are individual. As noted above, my faith position is denoted by birth, belief, position and collective, all of which (but birth) are subject to change over time.
[Anecdotal Conversation] I recently met a Pakistani LSE Law undergraduate who relayed to me a desire to wear a hijab to university. R: I want to wear the Hijab Z: Go for it, Why don't you? R:... Z:...Are you worried about safety? R: No. I feel like the other girls will judge me Z: Are you wearing it for them? R: No, I am wearing it because I want to. Z: Then why are you worried, have you worn one Pakistan? R: Yes of course, sometimes but not all the time. I just feel like they will judge me, like ohh you weren't wearing it before but now you are. Z: I understand you might be feeling self-conscious about how others may perceive this change, but choosing to wear a hijab is up to you. No one can tell you how to practice your faith as long as it's your choice. R: This is true Z: I am not going to lie to you and say that you will be treated the same as before, by your university peers or the wider public. Some people see the hijab as anti-feminist and oppressive. From my understanding, the feminist perspective centres your agency. If you choose to wear the Hijab, that is your choice and your right and I for one will be proud of you. Note: memories may present me in a favourable light :)
Creed – Mistaken Identities – The Reith Lectures
When reflecting on how Kwame Anthony Appiah deconstructs religion into Practice, Community and Belief was quite interesting. As per my reflection, these three aspects have played a large role in the formation of my academic and artistic practices. As such, when thinking about a student in my care, I must consider the nuances of their beliefs. Which are, by nature, hidden. Here, particular care must be taken as it is often a site of microagressions or outright racism.
I believe that this deconstruction is helpful when considering the nature of people and how we can remain connected to our biographies. Personally, I perceived much performance of faith linked to community and practice more than belief. Especially when there has been religious conflict. As such a notion of Taqiya is present in my community, which translates to prudence/fear, a denial of beliefs in the face of extreme religious persecution. Collective histories are complex, as are the practices and beliefs of a community when forced conversion or absorption and erasure have taken place.
Another key point centred on interpretation and implementation: scriptural determinism and double standards. Religion and contemporary religions (celebrity/sports/tech bros/etc) can have the potential for abuse. See God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens. What this shows is the issue lies within humanity.
The cult of the individual, power, hierarchy and information asymmetry are utilised as tools of control. This is seen in the religious conversions by christian missionaries associated with colonialism. A way out is similarly offered by Kwame Anthony Appiah, in a world desiring certainty, having relaxed convictions while keeping your belief system open for challenge + revision is a super healthy mode of navigating academia.
Religion in Britain: Challenges for Higher Education
Secular states and public religions – That I had written the above comment about the Gregorian calendar and Paganism speaks to an inherent fallacy in the idea of Britain as a secular state.
The ‘vaguely Christian’ UK – Consider the prominence of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the recent gaff concerning Pr*nce Andr£w ‘making amends’.
The question the I have falls from these observations, how deep is the doublespeak?
When we consider the notion of representation and broadcast message, who is a guest and who is permanent? Who represents what in optics and message?
A true secular state would require a de-centring of Christian institutions. Writing this made me think about Christ’s college, founded in 1437 as “God’s House”.
I digress, the point is about the student experience. These resources have re-affirmed some beliefs I’ve had and given me ideas to carry forward as my perspective continues to change as I grow. When considering students, I will seek to seek moments to celebrate student positionality, allowing them to centre their faith, if they wish. Similarly, it is also important to consider how inter-belief relations manifest & play out. How to encourage groups to be open with one another, to bridge gaps in culture and community to learn from one another.
The questions that the ToR aims to explore were particularly resonant, and it was no surprise that the wide array of voices chimed in a myriad of ways.
Having travelled the spectrum of relations to religion, spirituality, faith and the lack thereof.
I am reminded of the potential for connection and community, as noted by Muslim Sisterhood (of which one of our colleagues, Zeinab Saleh, is a founding member). Likewise, I have my own experiences of continued Islamaphobia that shaped my positionality and perspective. Reading God is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens helps me understand the perspective of Bridgett Crutchfield. (I never understood gender segregated prayer areas). Likewise I understand Montana Williamson’s description of foundational values, in her Note from the lead. This journey has ultimately led me back to a very personal interpretation of isma’ili spirituality
This resource has highlighted the need to centre students perspective with respect to others. Though this term is near equal to relation, the notion of respect is poignant for inclusive practice.
My personal art practice investigates Dream Work, so the chapter Surah Yusuf, was also of particular note. Of course, the key question of gender springs to mind. The story highlights patriarchal notions entwined with the divine spirit. Yusma the slave harrased by her ‘master’, paints a quite different picture. This provocation may (not?) be productive, but it is important to facilitate such a conversation carefully if a student were to make such a statement.