01: The current issue of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion (September) is devoted to religion and comedy, going beyond the usual somber philosophical and theological reflections on humor.
Several articles look at the interactions between comedians and satirists and institutional religion, including the faceoff between the creators of the animated series South Park and the Catholic League for Civil Rights and the rise of “parody religions,” such as Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Church of the Subgenius.
These spoof religions are said to number up to 1,500 (increasing by over 1,000 since 2002) and they are not created strictly for amusement and satire. They often have a political agenda challenging the legal privileges of traditional religions and the accepted definition of religion itself.
Douglas Cowan provides an interesting article on the rise of atheist comedy as performed by many standup artists– Billy Connolly, Bill Maher, Eddie Izzard, Ricky Gervais, Louis CK, David Cross, and Julia Sweeney, to name just a few. These “new atheist” comedians use sharp invective as much as satire and sarcasm against religion delivered to often receptive audiences. Cowan argues that the new atheist comedians, along with other celebrities, have “joined the cultural pool of `conversational’ experts… reinforcing our beliefs when we agree with them, forcing us to shore up our beliefs when we don’t.” For more information on this issue, visit: http://www.equinoxpub.com/blog/2013/11/why-atheism-matters/
02: The current issue of the evangelical journal Transformation (Volume 30, No. 4) is devoted to the formation and development of the Global Christian Forum, an organization some see as a more inclusive alternative to the establishment ecumenism represented by the World Council of Churches. Most of the articles discuss the work of the GCF, especially its 2007 and 2012 gathering in Kenya and Indonesia, respectively, in the context of the various theological traditions and perspectives represented, but the lead article by Sarah Rowland Jones, a researcher and Anglican representative of the forum, discusses its present and future prospects.
She notes that evangelicals and Pentecostals have increasingly participated and gained a sense of ownership in the GCF, even running the risk of outnumbering the historic mainline churches. The Catholic Church is also showing growing support for the forum. The inclusiveness is likely to be tested as the forum now starts to address more controversial theological concerns such as interreligious relations and Christian persecution. Although the GCF’s light institutional structure may make it, as described by one church leader, the “best value-for-money ecumenism anywhere in the world, the organization needs a firmer financial footing and greater publicity to survive and thrive, she concludes. For more information on this issue, contact: http://trn.sagepub.com.
03: Decoding Al-Queda’s Strategy (Columbia University Press, $37.50) painstakingly examines the work of well-known and more obscure theologians and theoreticians of the jihadist terrorist group and arrives at the conclusion that its strategies and worldviews owe more to revolutionary politics than Islam.
Author Michael W.S. Ryan, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, looks particularly at the writings of Abu Bakr Naji and Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, two military strategists, and finds that much of their (often failed) game plan of Al-Queda was taken from Mao, Che Guevara and Vietnam War “mastermind” General Gap. While extremist religious groups may often borrow secular strategies, Ryan argues that these strategies are at the heart of Al-Queda’s philosophy; Islamic concerns over morality and adherence to the Koran are pushed aside in favor of following “universal laws’ of human reason.
For this reason, the book counsels that Al-Queda’s appeal among Muslims is limited and that anti-terrorism strategies need to cultivate, rather than alienate, the diverse, prosperous and integrated Muslim community in the U.S.