Jul 19 2015

New(ish) publication: The Scientification of Religion: An Historical Study of Discursive Change, 1800-2000, by Kocku von Stuckrad

scientification

In The Scientification of Religion: An Historical Study of Discursive Change, 1800-2000 (De Gruyter, 2014), Kocku von Stuckrad describes “the discursive constructions of  ’religion’ and ‘science’ through the disciplines of astrology, astronomy, psychology, alchemy, chemistry, and scientific experimentation more generally. The second half of the book explores the power of academic legitimization of knowledge in emerging European modernities.” (Source: Review by Kristian Petersen, accessible here.)

The table of contents for this volume may be found here.

An interview with von Stuckrad on a wide range of topics, including Theosophy, marginalized knowledge, Earth-based spirituality, Jewish mysticism, Paganism, and contemporary science, is also available at the above link at the bottom of the page. This is one of the best interviews I’ve listened to in a while.

I have yet to read this volume, but look forward to doing so. I also welcome scholarly guest reviewers in the broadly overlapping areas of astronomy and religion. If you have read this book (or plan to) or other volumes spanning astronomy (and/or space) and religion, and wish to post a review here, please e-mail me at a_lobel@live.concordia.ca.

 


Jul 13 2015

Exhibit (San Francisco): “Night Begins the Day: Rethinking Space, Time, and Beauty,” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

“Night Begins the Day: Rethinking Space, Time, and Beauty” looks like a marvelous exhibit. An artistic take on the Jewish day, which begins the night before, it runs through September 20 at the CJM, 736 Mission St., San Francisco. More information available at http://www.thecjm.org.

A quote in this Jweekly.com article describing the exhibit, however, caught my eye:

According to Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, senior educator at Lehrhaus Judaica in Berkeley, the rabbis of early times had a deep understanding of astronomy: After all, the Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle, and called upon Jews “to observe nature and be a part of this world.

“We have a tradition,” Wolf-Prusan notes, “that says, ‘Pay attention. See what’s around you.’ ”

There are certainly a number of rabbinic sources that support this viewpoint; Wolf-Prusan is not wrong, precisely. But in keeping with the old borscht belt adage “two Jews, three opinions,” I’d like to throw my own hat into the ring. While the Jewish calendar is lunisolar (not purely lunar), I would argue that the gradual move toward the fixing of the Jewish calendar (i.e., in place by the ninth-tenth centuries CE) turned rabbinic eyes away from direct celestial observation, not toward it. As per the research of Sacha Stern in ‘Calendars in Antiquity: Empires, States, and Societies’ (2012, Oxford University Press), this move was in keeping with the rise of the era of urbanization and fixed calendars (Stern 336). Aside from the recitation of the rosh hodesh (new month/moon) prayer (usually performed en passant) and the blessing on the sun recited every twenty-eight years (more about which, see here and here) Judaism is no longer focused on the skies. Heaven, yes, but not the heavens.

But here is the key. As is so often the case when analyzing rabbinic sources, particularly the Babylonian Talmud, multivocality reigns. This, combined with doubts cast upon the historicity of certain rabbinic institutions and astronomical-calendrical procedures makes it difficult, if not impossible, to unequivocally state that the rabbis all understood, let alone championed, the observation and study of the cosmos. In my own recent research, I demonstrate this rabbinic multivocality, highlighting views of the natural world on Earth, and perspectives on the heavens, that range from reverence and appreciation to outright scorn toward those who would waste time on any pursuit but the study of Torah.

That said, however, in addition to his own call for Jews to appreciate the natural world, Rabbi Wolf-Prusan also mentions that of the late rabbi and civil rights activist Abraham Joshua Heschel for “‘radical amazement’ — a sense of wonder that is a prerequisite to wisdom and faith.” It is on the contemporary scene that we see the opening of the floodgates of writing and political action — from Heschel’s call to similar calls for the preservation of nature as a “Torah responsibility” by the Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox), as well as the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements. In addition, the past few decades have brought with them new Earth-based Jewish groups, including Tel Shemesh, The Walking Stick Foundation, the Adamah Fellowship, and Wilderness Torah.

While these are most welcome changes, I leave open the question of whether these were borne of the classical sources themselves or whether they are, in fact, inspired but primarily contemporary shifts toward a more grounded (and cosmos-inspired) spirituality.


Oct 31 2014

Book review: Ancient Jewish Sciences and the History of Knowledge in Second Temple Literature

ancientjewishsciencescover

As promised, my review of the 2013 publication Ancient Jewish Sciences and the History of Knowledge in Second Temple Literature, edited by Jonathan Ben-Dov and Seth L. Sanders. New York: NYU Press.


Jul 16 2014

Article: “Space Exploration: Humanity’s Single Most Important Moral Imperative”

Readers will notice that I have added space exploration to the areas covered by this blog. This is a natural extension of my ongoing interdisciplinary research spanning religion and astronomy, encompassing religious perspectives upon the place of humans — homo religiosus in particular — in the cosmos, and on our future.

An interesting perspective on this issue is found in last month’s edition of Philosophy Now –  “Space Exploration: Humanity’s Single Most Important Moral Imperative.” I haven’t been logging in much lately, but hope to begin doing so more often in a few months. I invite your comments, and will reply when I can.


Feb 10 2014

Now available online! ‘Ancient Jewish Sciences and the History of Knowledge in Second Temple Literature’

For your reading and research enjoyment courtesy of the NYU Library’s Ancient World Digital Library, in partnership with the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW):

Ancient Jewish Sciences and the History of Knowledge in Second Temple LiteratureEdited by Jonathan Ben-Dov and Seth L. Sanders.

What is there to say but thank you?

N.B. One of my favourite introductory lines may be found in the above volume, in “Networks of Scholars: The Transmission of Astronomical and Astrological Learning between Babylonians, Greeks and Jews”, by Mladen Popović:

“What do we know about what ancient Jewish scholars knew about what Babylonian scholars knew?”