About Nathan Loewen

My primary areas of research and publication focus on globalizing discourses within the philosophy of religion and analyzing the emerging confluence between Religious Studies and Development Studies. A third area of interest is collaborative online learning–how the emphasis on technology in higher education can be directed towards strategies for networked learning.

How Your Phone Defines Religion

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As the Faculty Technology Liaison to the College of Arts and Sciences at UA, I am part of a Mac Administrators forum. I was surprised to notice the exclusion of deities from emoji eligibility while glancing over an update notice. After some investigation, I was surprised to learn about the selection factors of the Unicode Consortium.

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In fact, the Unicode Consortium has produced a very detailed report, “Emoji and Symbol Additions – Religious Symbols and Structures,” for which “The objective has been to have symbols and structures of major belief systems worldwide represented with an emphasis on filling up existing gaps in the encoded symbol repertoire.”

The report is an excellent “common sense inventory” for what ready-to-hand assumptions exist for thinking about the study of religion. For example, the emoji for “place of worship”  is that of a person kneeling in prayer under a roof. What does this representation include or exclude from considerations about religion?place-of-worship

It is Borders that Divide Us, as well as Our Ability to Recognize Them

Last week’s conclusion of the Canadian federal election marks another milestone in the exercise of democracy. Ballots were cast. A new party obtained a majority (of seats). The election is now over.

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I did not take part in that election. Despite being a Canadian citizen, I live outside the borders of the country, and I do not plan on moving back at a definite time in the future. Therefore, at least according to my reading, I am ineligible to participate in that democratic process.

My situation brings into relief Étienne Balibar’s observation about the undemocratic constitutive element of democratic nations: borders.

“They are, in sum, the point where, even in the most democratic of states, the status of a citizen returns to the condition of a “subject,” where political participation gives way to the rule of police. They are the absolutely nondemocratic, or “discretionary,” condition of democratic institutions. And it is as such that they are, most often, accepted, sanctified, and interiorized.” (author’s emphasis; We, the People of Europe: Relfections on a Transnational Citizenship. 2004, 109)

canadian-border-quebec-city-canada+1152_12866659878-tpfil02aw-29940One of the hot-button issues of the election, that of policing “barbaric cultural practices,” also brings Balibar’s observation into acute focus. Every now and then, democratic societies express the wish to recognize their borders more clearly. They ask that border-control practices circulate among themselves in order to secure their perception that their society is sacrosanct.

At such points in time, the absolutely nondemocratic condition of democracy comes into full view. And then, oftentimes in the denouement of a democracy’s crisis – the acceptance speech after an election in this case – the conditions of democracy slip into the shadows.

Barbarians at the Gates

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Look up! Waayyyyyy up! It’s election time in Canada and Canadians are talking about values. And it’s not because of battle flags flying over places of government or off the backs of pickups trucks. No, it is about “barbaric cultural practices.”

The crux of the matter, like so many things, plays on the oh-so-blurry situation created by discourses about beliefs or values and actions. Note that each of these are definable to varying degrees: the former remain invisible (although they can be talked about) while the latter can be made visible (by laws, for example).  In the name of what Canadians profess to belief and value, the government is asking permission to restrict what people do both within Canada and abroad (thus also blurring where the nation-state picks up and ends off, too!). Continue reading

Should We Pull at Our (Funding) Strings?

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The American Academy of Religion recently held a consultation with its membership about “Responsible Research Practices: A Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct for AAR Members.” A grand total of four scholars responded to the statement on the AAR’s website. A online quick search for responses elsewhere returned nothing, other than a series of posts by Russell McCutcheon. Unless members of this scholarly association are just waiting for the session at the AAR’s annual meeting where further discussion will be held, the response to the Statement seems to be mostly crickets. Continue reading

This Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Either

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Yesterday, I read an interesting report from Educause about “The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment.” The report starts by criticizing the now-conventional Learning Management Systems (LMS) that are deployed with ubiquity by higher education institutions. Some see LMSs as essential to education and LMS services are projected to be a $7.83 billion dollar industry in 2018.

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Rigor on the Line

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The other day, Jesse Stommel tweeted about public work not being counted for tenure, and that the qualifications for awarding tenure should be changed.

The conversation of tweets that followed included an elaboration, stating that we need to “think more broadly about the locations of scholarship. Public, open-access should be seen as rigorous.” Continue reading