Hindus Rising: Meera Nanda and “The God Market”

We need to be ready to confront Hinduism. And here’s why: India is on track to become a significant world power within thirty years, and Hindu nationalism is on the rise there, not in decline. There are even well-funded efforts now to spread Hinduism into other countries. Hindu nationalism, Hindu supremacism, Hindu fundamentalism, Hindu terrorism, and Hindu evangelism are terms once thought to be oxymoronic but now are a reality. It’s not an urgent threat in America, to be sure (Hinduism’s numbers and influence are microscopic compared to the more pressing problems created by conservative and mainstream Christianity; and, among external threats, Islam), but the power and influence of India, economically and politically, is of growing significance, and its policies are increasingly influenced by Hinduism. We’d do well to keep our eye on it.

There is another reason to pay attention. The secularization thesis is in trouble lately. It turns out, the idea that modernization inevitably increases secularization (and a corresponding decline of religion) is false. It has been based on the rather exceptional examples of Europe, Japan, Canada, and Australia (and now, only very recently, the U.S., which for the first time is showing the start of similar demographic trends). The rest of the world is going the other direction, with increasing (albeit changing) religiosity, hand-in-hand with increased modernization and industrialization. This is the danger of focusing only on the first world as if it were normative. When we look at India, for example, we see many very important parallels with the path of religion in the U.S. (up until now), but also many important differences. Any theory of secularization (how inevitable it is, or how to advance it) must be based on the evidence available from other religious and cultural contexts. India is an ideal example of that.

I would not have said or thought any of the above had I not been lucky enough to be asked to read and blurb the American edition of Meera Nanda’s book The God Market: How Globalization Is Making India More Hindu (2011, revised edition with a new introduction; originally published in India in 2009). Meera Nanda is a noted philosopher of science in India who (ironically, given that she’s an atheist) was a recipient of a John Templeton Foundation Fellowship to research and write on secularization in India (or more precisely, on the reception of scientific thinking in India, what Indians call “scientific temper,” set forth as a national goal in India’s constitution). Her main project (which will be published as Tryst with Destiny: Scientific Temper and Secularization in India) is near completion. But she realized she could not develop that without first publishing her preliminary findings on the state of secularism in India, as her findings were overturning the apple cart of traditional secularization theories, and as a patriotic Indian and champion of science and reason she is greatly concerned about this.

I provided the publisher with this official reaction to her book, which you will now find gracing its back cover: [Read more...]

(Not) Our Kind of People

I’m a weirdo. But in a good way. And I hang out with other weirdos-in-a-good-way every  chance I get, because that’s the best company in the world. But we all know weirdos-in-a-bad-way, too, and they are the worst company, the destroyers of any groove and the killers of fun times. You are uncomfortable around them. You want them to go away. You wish they wouldn’t show up at meetups and events. You are keen to brush them off and avoid them so you can find the fun people to hang out with. But it’s not just the bad crazy people that bring you down. Even folks in between, who are just dull or stuffy or so socially conformed that (if you’re a weirdo like me) you just don’t fit in with them, too. They aren’t weirdos. In fact, their principal defect is that they aren’t weirdos at all. But you don’t care much for their company, either (but if it’s the best you can have on the occasion, you can make the best of it).

And of course, like all things, the paragraph above describes a continuum, and people can fall anywhere along it. But the best company is way to one side, the worst on the other, and everyone else in between. If you’re like me, how comfortable and happy and fulfilled you are in anyone’s company is a direct function of where they are on that curve. Or at least, this is true for the good weirdos, the weirdos I fit in with. The non-weirdos are a bit uncomfortable around us, too, and would rather hang out with other middle-of-the-curve people. I can’t speak to what the bad weirdos prefer, because I assiduously avoid them and thus don’t have much data on what they prefer. But those good crazies? They’re my kind of people. (I also know plenty of people midway between good weird and fuddy duddy who like and get along with both, and I’m comfortable around them but still not as much, and vice versa. Thus it all comes by degrees and not absolutes.)

Are you like me? Do you prefer (even love) the company of “crazy” people, who are the good kind of crazy, but can’t stand (and do all you can to avoid) the company of “crazy” people, who are the bad kind of crazy? What’s the difference then between good crazy and bad crazy? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, because I’ve been doing a lot of events this past month and a half (doing nine or ten gigs, spanning three states), intensifying the experience I always have when doing what I do, which is for ten years or so now, as a speaker and special guest, speaking to, meeting, and typically dining or drinking with atheist groups all over the U.S. (and Canada). (Although what really got me to thinking about all this was the new awesome Garbage song Not Your Kind of People, which I’ve been playing during my drives this last week, philosophically contemplating its lyrics. Best Garbage album in history, BTW. But then I’m a weirdo, remember?)

Let me describe two scenarios, so you can consider if you’ve experienced the same. [Read more...]

Interview with Elizabeth Anderson

This is the next in my series of interviews with my favorite women in philosophy (see the intro to my interview with Susan Haack for why I am running this series and how you can help me). Some won’t appear…my favorite female philosopher of all time is Philippa Foot, who is sadly deceased (and thus unavailable for interview), and a close second is Martha Nussbaum, who as a practicing Jew does not count herself an atheist and so declined to be interviewed for this project.

Today I’m speaking with Elizabeth Anderson, who is the John Rawls Collegiate Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is best known for her book Value in Ethics and Economics (Harvard 1993), which challenges the notion that all goods can be commodified (i.e. regarded as fungibly equivalent to money) and sees what follows when we abandon that notion; and most recently for her strong defense of reasonable affirmative action policies in The Imperative of Integration (Princeton 2010) [for more see her cv].

I agree a bit less with Anderson than with Haack, at least on some issues (I do agree with her on a lot of things, too, and in this interview, I agree with nearly everything), but her work has been important in making the best non-straw-man case for views different from my own, and has actually changed and improved my own views in result. In this respect she reminds me of A.J. Ayer, who helped me structure much of my thought, and it was precisely in answering (or improving on) him that led me to my current views (in his case, regarding epistemology and semantics; in Anderson’s case, with regard to ethics, value theory, and politics). I am thus not a logical positivist, but I’m a much better philosopher for having taken the best of them seriously. So, too, Anderson.


Interview with Elizabeth Anderson

R.C.: Thank you so much for taking the time and agreeing to this interview for FreethoughtBlogs. As a philosopher myself, I often encounter the attitude that philosophers are useless to society, not important, they don’t even do anything except dress up opinions in academic language, that philosophy is a career dead-end or a waste of potential (“Why didn’t you become a doctor or a physicist or at least a lawyer something?”). I have my own way of responding to that. But I’m curious about yours. There’s a lot of pain and labor and sacrifice and expense to get all the way to completing a Ph.D., so we have to be really driven by something! So why did you pursue a career in philosophy? And I don’t mean as a teacher, but as a philosopher, actually doing philosophy, not just teaching it.

[Read more...]

Interview with Susan Haack

I’ve been interested in getting a female philosopher onto Freethought Blogs, someone who actively blogs the subject and is keen to join us as an atheist activist. The general reception to my idea has been “there aren’t any of those.” There are women who are philosophers (full on, with Ph.D.s and publications and the whole nine yards), but none who actively blog on philosophy and identify openly as atheists or even new atheists (meaning: willing to openly take on religion, fervently and without quarter).

By all means, if you know anyone like that, tell me about them at once. In the meantime, I decided I’d go exploring, starting by collecting interviews with my favorite women in philosophy today. So at least women in philosophy can have a voice here and you can learn about them and their work. Of course I’ll be asking if any of them might be interested in blogging with us, but I don’t expect that. But I am also asking them if they know any women who might fit our bill, especially up and coming women in philosophy who are opinionated and outspoken and don’t care who they piss off.

In the meantime, here is the first in the series, my interview with Susan Haack, one of my favorite epistemologists and philosophers of science. Currently a professor of philosophy and law at U. Miami, Dr. Haack is best known for such works as Evidence and Inquiry and Defending Science—Within Reason (for more see her official cv). I will be asking many of the same questions of others in future months. And in this case as in every, we don’t agree on everything, but we agree on a lot!

Interview with Susan Haack

R.C.: Why did you choose a career in philosophy?—and I don’t mean as a teacher, but as a philosopher, actually doing philosophy? [Read more...]

Debate in Riverside

Later this month I will be debating the existence of God with Lenny Esposito of Come Reason Ministries, on Wednesday May 23rd, 7-9pm (2012), at UC Riverside, in University Lecture Hall [UNLH 1000] on 900 University Ave. in Riverside (California 92521). There will be overflow seating in Life Sciences 1500 [LSc 1500]. It’s sponsored by the Well Christian Club. Free to all, but they expect high attendance so come early to be assured a seat. (See the CRM page and the Facebook page.)