01: Dorothy Rowe has created a niche for herself as an atheist self-help guru. Rowe, a British clinical psychologist and author, has recently written What Should I Believe?, which merges the two worlds of atheism and self-help. With strong influence from “new atheist” spokesman Richard Dawkins,
Rowe’s basic argument is that religion, by which she mostly means Christianity, has left many people with a debilitating sense of guilt and shame in exchange for its function of alleviating the fear of death. Her thesis charts the way in which church and state have historically coerced people into believing things to suit their purposes, and points to the role of clergy and other believers in blaming illnesses on a lack of faith and fostering a sense of self-superiority.
Rowe mainly relies on case studies of those consulting psychologists in her approach, although she adds that there are people of faith who are not as desperate as her clients, although they would have been okay anyway, whatever their beliefs.
(The Tablet, Nov. 1)
02: Ahmad al-Shugairi is the latest rising star among a new generation of “satellite sheiks” whose religion-themed television shows have helped fuel a religious revival across the Arab world.
Over the past decade, the number of satellite channels devoted exclusively to religion has risen from one to more than 30, and religious programming on general-interest stations, like the one that features Al-Shugairi’s show, has soared. Al-Shugairi and others like him have succeeded by appealing to a young audience that is hungry for religious identity, but deeply alienated from both politics and the traditional religious establishment, especially in the fundamentalist forms prevalent in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
The 35-year-old Al-Shugairi mixes deep Islamic teachings with humor. With a background in business (he sometimes speaks about Islam as “an excellent product that needs better packaging”), as well as a past that includes living a secular lifestyle in California and a divorce, Al-Shugairi speaks the language of Muslims seeking a modern middle way between secularism and fundamentalism. Al-Shugairi is not the first of his kind. Amr Khaled, an Egyptian televangelist, began reaching large audiences eight years ago. But the field has grown greatly, with each new figure creating Internet sites and Facebook groups where tens of thousands of fans link to clips of their favorite preachers.
Al-Shugairi’s main TV program, Khawater (“Thoughts”), contrasts sharply with the dry lecturing style of so many Muslim clerics. Part of his inspiration, Al-Shugairi said, came from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which hit him especially hard as someone who spent his formative years in the US. “Many of us felt a need to educate youth to a more moderate understanding of religion,” he said, during an interview at a café. Yet his approach to Islam, as with most of the other satellite TV figures who have emerged in the past few years, is fundamentally orthodox. Al-Shugairi’s own life—and especially his struggle with the poles of decadence and extreme faith—is an essential feature of his appeal to many devotees.
(New York Times, Jan. 3)