Conrad provided the following summary of Sunday's presentation by SFU research associate Eva Sajoo.

You can view her talk on our YouTube channel.

On Sunday, November 4th, Eva Sajoo made a presentation to us on “Secularism and Islam”. Her page at SFU gives her this description:

Eva Sajoo has taught at the University of Science and Technology in Beijing as well as the University of British Columbia, and currently lectures at Simon Fraser University in the Continuing Studies Program. She has published work on gender, development, and education in Muslim societies, including “Modern Citizenship, Multiple Identities” in Muslim Modernities, ed. Amyn B. Sajoo, (I.B Tauris, 2008) and a co-authored chapter entitled “Gender and Identity” in the forthcoming Companion to Muslim Cultures (I.B. Tauris, 2011). Her research won first place in a 2010 competition sponsored by the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (Geneva). In addition to her academic work, she is a regular contributor to the news media, notably on Afghanistan.

Sajoo started out by referring to several books on Secularism including “A Secular Age” by the noted Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor who was granted the Templeton Prize (incidentally worth more in financial terms than a Nobel Prize and described by the Templeton foundation as presented annually to a living person who has “made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.”) Taylor is not enthusiastic about “naturalism” and for a humanist counter to his pronouncements I recommend Pat Duffy Hutcheon’s article “Evolutionary Naturalism: the Philosophical Foundations of Humanism”.

At the same web site you can also read Pat’s interesting essay “A Humanist Perspective on Spirituality” which I find more intellectually satisfying than Taylor’s approach to spirituality.

In terms of Islam, Sajoo seems to feel that the forces that make us critical of Islam are really political powers rather than Islamic ones and she suggests that the negativity we feel about such things as the treatment of women, the punishments for blasphemy and the penalties for leaving Islam for another religion or no religion in countries we would regard as Islamic should not be blamed on the religion but perhaps on the level of political evolution such countries have currently experienced. I suspect that many of us would find it difficult to divorce the religion from the politics as much as Sajoo would like us to as we find beliefs fostered by religious leaders difficult to ignore. Just remember the Protestant/Catholic battle in Ireland should we wish to ignore religious beliefs as significant in promoting hatred and bigotry.

Sajoo implied that the “new atheists” had gone too far in suggesting the degree of evil that religious beliefs could be held responsible for. But as for me, I’ve found the appearance of the “new atheists” as invigorating and refreshing. I tend to look on the issue that some term the conflict between religion and secularism rather as a conflict between supernaturalism and naturalism and I consider supernaturalism counterfeit currency. Any kind of ideology, religious or secular can be debilitating in the long run as ideologies neglect the kind of scientific scrutiny needed to check on the assumptions the ideology is based on.

I suspect Sajoo is correct in her assumptions that Islamic people migrating to countries with a traditional Christian population would not overwhelm the Christians in a few generations. She recommended “The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?” by Globe and Mail writer Doug Saunders. A copy will shortly be available on Sunday mornings for people interested in exploring the issue in more detail.

Despite my reservations I thoroughly enjoyed our Sunday morning session and I’m grateful to the board for bringing this important issue to our attention. But we do need to get our microphones working properly.

Cheers, Conrad 


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