Relgious Studies & Spirituality Links
Jim Moyers, MFT
"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. It was the experience of mystery -- even if mixed with fear -- that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man... I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence -- as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature."
Albert Einstein, The World As I See It
My interest in religion and spirituality has its origins in my growing up as a devout Seventh-day Adventist and the crisis I experienced as a young adult when I found I no longer believed what I had been taught to regard as “The Truth” handed down from heaven. Part of my post-Adventist journey involved an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies from the University of California, and I continue to have a strong interest in the scholarly study of religion, especially the psychology of spiritual experience, mysticism, the history of early Christianity, heterodox movements such as gnosticism, and new religions. Over years of spiritual exploration I have come to the conclusion that all systems of religion represent imperfect attempts to delineate the limitless that fade into nothingness when measured against the incomprehensible Whole relative to which our world appears for a brief instant with no more significance than a speck of dust.
The image above is the Orion Nebula, "a picture book of star formation, from the massive, young stars that are shaping the nebula to the pillars of dense gas that may be the homes of budding stars," as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. This astronomical body was a source of wonder and awe for me as a boy growing up immersed in Seventh-day Adventistism. According to the Adventist prophet, Ellen G. White, this "open space in Orion" is a heavenly gateway through which the New Jerusalem will descend to Earth. (Early Writings 41.2) While that now seems extremely unlikely to me, I find the idea of stars being born in Einstein's "marvelous structure of existence" more awe inspiring than the idea of heaven coming down to this world once did.
While I have in my spiritual wanderings discovered no system of belief adequate to the impossible task of explaining the ineffable, I continue to find the exploring fascinating. Here are links to a few things I have written along with some of the many interesting resources I have come across:
Leaving the Garden is the story of my ongoing spiritual journey. I also have links on that page to a couple of articles on historical aspects of Adventism as well as other material about fundamentalist and cultic type groups.
As an outgrowth of my own experience in leaving a conservative religious group, I am very much interested in the psychological aspects of that kind of “de-conversion” experience. I have written essays on Restrictive Religious Groups, by which I mean cultic and fundamentalist type groups, and the Psychological Issues of Former Members of such groups, and also have a page of Internet Resources for Former Members of Restrictive Religious Groups.
What Is Meant By Religion? The Nature of Religious Experience is an excellent article written by a religious studies professor who grew up in a conservative religious tradition.
Belief Net.com offers a wealth of information and inspiration along with links to a vast range of religion/spirituality sites.
Religious Studies Resource Guide has links to a lot of resources about various traditions as well as religion in general.
The Virtual Religion Index is a wide ranging list of links to scholarly material (much of which is accessible to non-scholars) on religion and related topics. Lots of fascinating browsing.
The History of Christianity page has links to “99 Essential Resources.” More fascinating browsing for those of us who are fascinated by such!
Biblical Archaeology Review - Biblical scholarship, with an emphasis on archaeology in the land of the Bible, made accessible. This journal was instrumental in breaking the monopoly a few scholars had on the Dead Sea scrolls and continues to be active in covering, and sometimes creating, controversy in a field that is full of disputes.
From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians has material from an outstanding PBS "Frontline" presentation on early Christian history. The series, based as it is on historical scholarship rather than dogma, was not well received by fundamentalists. The Bible's Buried Secrets is another outstanding PBS program about the history of the Hebrew Bible (the "Old Testament" for Christians).
The Jewish-Roman World of Jesus has a wealth of information by noted Biblical scholar, James Tabor on early Christianity, its cultural context, and apocalyptic tradition. Tabor is also the co-author of Why Waco?, an important book on the apocalyptic Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist offshoot group and the FBI's tragic mishandling of the events that happened near Waco, Texas. The similarity of the tragedy in Waco to other horrific events involving apocalyptic groups at other times in the history of Christianity is striking.
Navigating the Bible (Torah) & Talmud Page explore these primary documents of Judaism. For someone who learned the Old Testament stories with a Christian slant it can be a bit disorienting as well as intriguing to discover how different the Jewish perspective often is. To say nothing of the discovery that Judaism did not stop evolving after the time of Jesus!
The Qumran Library has an introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls along with some translated texts. The Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature has a lot of information on these manuscripts that have given us new insights into Second Temple Judaism and the background of Christianity.
Resource Pages for Biblical Studies - several pages of links "focusing on the early Christian writings and their social world." Serious scholarly material for hours of browsing.
Society of Biblical Literature was founded in 1880 to further the scholarly study of the Bible and associated literature. Membership is open to anyone interested in Biblical studies.
American Academy of Religion - scholarly society for the study of religion. Focus is on historical and sociological aspects.
Gnostic Society Library - has information, including lectures and ancient texts, from an early rival of orthodox Christianity that continued in various forms into medieval times and beyond despite persecution by the established church. I find the Gnostic reading of various Christian traditions, some of which are turned upside down, fascinating. Jung regarded Gnosticism as an expression of what has been repressed in mainstream Christianity.
Not all forms of Christianity limit believers to "Thus saith the Lord" pronouncements. If you "find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty, in the questions than in the answers, have religious interests and longings but cannot accept the beliefs and dogmas you associate with Christianity, and are repelled by claims that Christianity is the only way," you may be interested in The Center for Progressive Christianity.
Unitarian-Universalism is a liberal religious tradition based upon freedom of conscience, social justice, and respect for individual pursuit of truth. While Unitarian-Universalism has its origins in heterodox Christian movements that rejected the dogmas of the trinity and eternal damnation, its members now embrace a wide range of diverse beliefs.
Grace Cathedral, "A House of Prayer for All People," offers a refreshing alternative to the dogmatic Christianity I grew up immersed in. The monthly Labyrinth Walk at Grace is a profound meditative experience.
Buddhist Virtual Library has lots of information and resources. You can follow the Zen Webring to explore the tradition that is probably the best known, as well as perhaps most misunderstood, form of Buddhism in the West. The Buddha Garden has information and articles about Buddhism from the perspective of a Thai-born Theravada Buddhist. And of course there are a great many websites centered on the currently popular Buddhist based practice of mindfulness. This one seems as good a place as any to start: What-is-mindfulness?
Introduction to Hinduism is an excellent guide to the varied strands of the primary and very complex religious tradition of India. The Hindu Webring has many links to sites relating to many aspects of Hinduism. On the other side of the tendency to idealize Eastern religion, the response to Wendy Doniger's The Hindus is clear evidence that fundamentalist tendencies are not limited to Christian and Islamic traditions.
Taoism is an ancient Chinese mystical tradition based upon observation of the natural world.
How to Meditate is a simple and well written introduction to mindfulness meditation by noted critic of religion, Sam Harris, who points out that meditative practice doesn’t have to involve religious belief. Another good introduction to meditation that presents other approaches in addition to mindfulness can be found at www.jenreviews.com/how-to-meditate/. Get Peace of Mind also has a lot of useful information about finding inner peace in the midst of the stress of contemporary life.
Parabola Magazine - "Where Spiritual Traditions Meet." A wonderful quarterly full of great art and wisdom drawn from Eastern and Western, ancient and modern spiritual traditions.
Gnosis Magazine - "A Journal of the Western Inner Tradition." Fascinating articles with high standard of scholarship focused on Western Esoterism. Sadly Gnosis ceased publication in 1999. However the web site is still maintained and all fifty one issues are still available.
The Skeptical Inquirer published by the Center for Skeptical Inquiry can help us keep at least one foot on the ground amid the multitude of contending and contrary truth claims. Fascinating browsing even if you are not a skeptic!
Original Material ©2009 James C. Moyers
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