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Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Exploring the significance of Tagore's first name - "lord of the sun"

Writing in The Guardian (8 July 2011) Amit Chaudhuri's "Rereading Rabindranth Tagore" explains the significance of "Rabindranath"

"Tagore's first name sounded like gobbledegook to Larkin's ears, and Dickens, who met Tagore's grandfather Dwarkanath in London in 1842, had this to say of that name: "I have spelt it backwards, but it makes no less tremendous nonsense that way." But there's a narrative behind the names. "Dwarkanath" means "lord of Dwarka" – Dwarka is Krishna's home; it's another name for Krishna, and is a properly Hindu name. Tagore's father's name, Debendranath, means "lord of the gods", and has a clear religious connotation. "Rabindranath" means "lord of the sun"; it announces a shift from the invocation of the gods in Bengali naming toward names that suggest or contain light or radiance. Debendranath, a prime mover of the unitarian Brahmo Samaj, is, in naming his son (indeed all his sons), moving away from the old, populous Hindu universe to a sphere of immanent illumination: the world of the so-called Bengali "enlightenment".

Monday, 11 July 2011

Sephardic infuences on liberal religion

Last weekend I attended a performance in Manchester’s Reform Synagogue by Mor Karbasi as part of the “Sacred Sites” element of the Manchester International Festival. It was a dramatic and stunning performance drawing upon songs inspired by the Jewish Sephardi culture of 15th century Spain to new Ladino-influenced compositions. In the words of the programme, “Mor’s music is heavily inspired by and influenced by her deep connections with the Jewish faith, and her love for Spain and Morocco”.

The performance brought to mind a surprising theme of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s magisterial “Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490 – 1700”. He records the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian peninsula and the creation of a Sephardic diaspora. He traces the way that the “traumas, excitements and uncertainties released by the destruction of Muslim and Jewish civilisation in Spain fed into Spanish mysticism”, such as the Carmelite spirituality of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross but also to the alumbrado (“enlightened ones”) movement. The later movement, of whom many were crypto-Jews, influenced the “Spirituali” movement in Italy of evangelical humanists who were later to face their own expulsion. MacCulloch indicates that they made a “great” contribution to the anti-trinitarianism or Unitarianism which flourished in East Europe, most notably the Polish Movement which became identified with the Italian Sozzini, known as “Socinianism”.

Miquel Servetus, whose anniversary of his birth we celebrate this year, is described by MacCulloch as “the classic martyr for radical religion” and being inspired by what was happening in Spain and Portugal.

These challenges to Christian orthodoxy interacted with questions amongst the Sephardic Jews who had found refuge in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, which having achieved independence from Spain now valued freedom and tolerance. Amsterdam was also home to radical Christians; including the Libertines, Arminians, from the Dutch Reformed tradition, and then the Socinians fleeing the counter-reformation in Poland. Out of this mix emerged Benedict Spinoza. This is a surprising tale of how recurrent Sephardic connections flowed into liberal religion.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Accord Coalition publishes comprehensive review of evidence on faith schools

Evidence based policy-making is talked about but rarely implemented and education policy seems to suffer from lack of robustness.

It is great news that the Accord Coalition has today published a major new resource of information collating a wide variety of contemporary evidence and research about information on the policy implications of state funded faith schools and their practice.

"Accord’s ‘Databank of Independent Evidence on Faith Schools’ has been made freely available on the organisation’s website and has been produced to help journalists, researchers, legislators and members of the public. All of the information dates from 2001 or later, and the majority was produced in the last three years.

Topics covered in the report include research looking at faith school’s impact upon social and community cohesion, their level of attainment, religious discrimination in employment and admissions, the provision of Religious Education, Collective Worship, Sex and Relationships, as well as various statistical information and opinion polls."

The General Assembly is a member of Accord and is pleased to be associated with its work. This is a mine of useful information for anyone concerned about the role of faith schools in our society.