Gary Laderman But it is in this more ambiguous, liminal conceptual space, between medicine and recreation, body and spirit, religion and science, that altered states of consciousness and mind altering substances do their best work.
Left of Sacred
Gary Laderman I am still hesitant to pursue it in my class—perhaps because of the feeling that it is “taboo”; perhaps because a lingering sense that only “professionals” should be talking about it. It is highly, highly charged for so many of us. As one student put it, “trigger warnings were made for this topic.”
Gary Laderman The dead are with us. At least that’s what most religious cultures tell us.
Gary Laderman Memento Mori. Remember, you will die. Not a pleasant thought, yet one that has universal application because it is an unavoidable truth. The vanity of life, the nature of impermanence, the transient quality of existence. You get the point.
Gary Laderman Now here is the punch line: these were 8th graders! My usual audience is college kids at Emory University, but this was a guest lecture at a nearby middle school, and it was for the “comparative religion” section of their curriculum. These students were getting a carefully designed introduction to the study of religion. In 8th grade. In Georgia even.
Gary Laderman Death. Violence. Carnage. Hatred. Warfare. Demonization.
Bliss. Transcendence. Community. Comfort. Love. Glorification.
Overall, I’d say this year has been a mixed bag for religion. But then again, I’d have to say that every year throughout human history religious acts and beliefs have brought both bad and good to communities of people across the globe. America in 2015 is no different.
Gary Laderman What do you think? Is religious life fully captured by survey questions, graphs and bar charts? Or do these methods of collecting and displaying data fall short as indicators of the spiritual lives of Americans? Is it time to panic about the supposed decline of religion, or should we look to other metrics and methods to delve into what is really happening on the American religious landscape?
Gary Laderman When I was a young, idealistic, newly-minted PhD, moving from the University of California, Santa Barbara, to my first and only job at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, I had one primary, driving goal in teaching: to clarify for students the role of religion in society. Now that I’m older, wiser, and tenured, a different motivation is driving my pedagogy: my ultimate goal these days is to confuse the hell out of undergrads.
Gary Laderman It’s not easy being chair of a religion department. August is an especially cruel month as we close out one academic year and start up a new one, and begin again to struggle with an increasingly vital challenge: recruiting and keeping more majors. I’ve been teaching at Emory University for over 20 years, and every August I begin to obsess about a question. . . that’s at the center of my intellectual passion and personal livelihood: how do you convince people to study religion?