Harvard University

Veritas Forum invites college students to think through 'life’s hardest questions”

Veritas Forum invites college students to think through 'life’s hardest questions”

It’s back to school time, and how’s this for a bracing lineup of campus lectures in just the past four weeks?

At Yale University, distinguished philosophy professor Shelly Kagan, who is an atheist, hosted a top theologian, Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright, from Scotland’s University of St. Andrews to jointly ponder “Living Well in Light of Death.”

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat visited Ann Arbor to advise University of Michigan students that “Faith Is Not a Sideshow.”

At arch-rival Ohio State, a panel on “Living and Dying Well” consisted of a physician, a biological ethicist, and a specialist who helps patients with end-of-life planning.

Bob Cutillo, a physician working with Colorado’s homeless, spoke at the Mayo Clinic and its medical college on “The Doctor’s Gaze: Some Ancient Opinions on How We See Our Patients.”

Then it was celebrated attorney Rachael Denhollander, leader of the sexual abuse victims in the Michigan State and USA Gymnastics scandals and among Time magazine’s “100 most influential people.” Her double-header this week at New York University, then Columbia University Law School, addressed how justice can be reconciled with religious faith and forgiveness.

So began the season for the Veritas Forum of Cambridge, Mass., which organizes campus lectures to address “life’s hardest questions” from traditional Christian viewpoints that it believes academe neglects. To date there’ve been Veritas events at 185 colleges and universities, including at all but one of America’s top 25 schools in the new Wall Street Journal rankings.

Lecture topics run the gamut, for example “What Does It Mean to be Human?? “Is There Truth Beyond Science?” “Does Science Point to Atheism?” “Is Tolerance Intolerant?” “Contradictions in the Bible?” and “What Makes Us Racist?”

The concept is particularly intriguing due to heavy involvement of conservative or “evangelical” Protestants, often depicted in the media as anti-intellectual or at best mediocre thinkers.

The journalism hook?

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'Harry Potter and the Sacred Texts' coverage shed some light, but few real questions

'Harry Potter and the Sacred Texts' coverage shed some light, but few real questions

Years ago, I profiled the executive director of the Sixth & I Synagogue in Washington DC; one of the most eclectic houses of worship I’ve ever run into. Half of the stuff I encountered there hardly -- IMHO -- belonged at a synagogue (Yoga shabbats? Rock concerts? Political panels?) but the place was packing these events out week after week.

Which is why I’m not surprised that Sixth & I hosted the taping of a podcast known as “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text,” a creation of two Harvard professors that’s become quite the rage in the past year. You thought Harry Potter was just an unbelievably clever series of children’s books?

Think again. Last year, your GetReligionistas look at the Boston Globe’s shallow coverage of these two professors and their work. But now that a major Potter anniversary is here, more publications have gone searching for a higher meaning in words penned by J.K. Rowling.

Here’s the top of the Washington Post's recent piece:

Mark Kennedy grew up a Catholic, and a Harry Potter fanatic. Only one stuck.
“I considered myself a non-spiritual person,” he said. He thought he was done with religion. And then he stumbled on the podcast “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.”
The podcast told him that the Harry Potter series -- the books that he always turned to for solace when he was angry or stressed or in need of an escape -- could be a source of spiritual sustenance.
“I feel like I’m born again,” he said.
On Tuesday night, Kennedy came to an event space at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in the District with hundreds of fellow fans of the podcast, who have found a surprising spirituality in the magical fiction series, which turns 20 years old this year.
Hosted by Harvard Divinity School graduates Casper ter Kuile and Vanessa Zoltan, the podcast “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” became the number-two podcast in America on iTunes soon after it debuted last summer. It has inspired face-to-face Potter text reading groups, akin to Bible study more than book club, in cities across the country. In Harvard Square, ter Kuile and Zoltan host a weekly church-like service for the secular focused on a Potter text’s meaning.

Call this higher criticism with a twist.

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What happens when an article is wrong? The Atlantic dissects Jesus' 'wife' story

What happens when an article is wrong? The Atlantic dissects Jesus' 'wife' story

Certainly the religion story of the week -- or rather the story of the non-story -- was a bombshell piece published by The Atlantic called “The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’ Wife” about how a forged piece of papyrus managed to pass as an ancient manuscript.

You remember that media storm, right? You remember all the coverage of the claim that Jesus was married and that centuries of Christian doctrines regarding his celibacy were lies or worse.

What was depressing about the Harvard scholar who originally revealed this great find in 2012 was how many media eagerly pounced on it as final proof that Christianity is not what it says it is. GetReligion had plenty to say about the coverage here, herehere and here, as there weren’t a whole lot of voices out there asking questions about thoroughly this Harvard professor had vetted the material.

But one reporter did have questions. Some of us know Ariel Sabar from his 2008 book “My Father’s Paradise” about exploring his Jewish past in Iraqi Kurdistan. Having traveled in that corner of the world, I was amazed at the amount of “shoe leather reporting,” as we call it, that went into tracking down his family’s history.

Sabar put plenty of shoe leather into the Atlantic story, which starts thus:

On a humid afternoon this past November, I pulled off Interstate 75 into a stretch of Florida pine forest tangled with runaway vines. My GPS was homing in on the house of a man I thought might hold the master key to one of the strangest scholarly mysteries in recent decades: a 1,300-year-old scrap of papyrus that bore the phrase “Jesus said to them, My wife.” The fragment, written in the ancient language of Coptic, had set off shock waves when an eminent Harvard historian of early Christianity, Karen L. King, presented it in September 2012 at a conference in Rome.

Never before had an ancient manuscript alluded to Jesus’s being married.

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Story theme borrowed from another beat: Whatever happened to science in Islam?

Story theme borrowed from another beat: Whatever happened to science in Islam?

Religion reporters should look beyond their ghetto for story themes, and here’s a good one: Why does science lag so notably in the Muslim world, and what can be done about it?

That question was raised by assistant editor Ross Pomeroy at www.realclearscience.com. Some religionistas may recall his 2012 piece for biologos.org titled “Why Strict Atheism is Unscientific.”

The latest Pomeroy headline is equally controversial: “Can Islam Come Back to the Light of Science?” He presents data to highlight the problem, which is far broader than simply Mideast sheiks flying to London or New York for medical treatments:

In 2005, Harvard University alone produced more scientific papers than 17 Arabic-speaking nations combined. The Muslim population of 1.6 billion has produced only two Nobel Prize-winners in chemistry and physics in history, and both moved to the West to work.

Now, Jews are outnumbered 100 to one by Muslims globally yet boast 79 such Nobel laureates. The 57 nations in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation spend less than a percent of their collective gross domestic product on research and development, a third of the global average; Israel spends 4.4 percent.

What went wrong?

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