Monday, August 29, 2011

More on "Research on Religion"

Recently, I mentioned the weekly "Research on Religion" that is sponsored by the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University and hosted by Anthony Gill, Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington. In that post, I provided the links to a few of the podcasts but provided few details. Here, I include links to some of those I mentioned before along with some other ones (you can also subscribe through iTunes); I've also included brief descriptions (from the Research on Religion website) of the podcasts, which should provide a better sense of what they're about.
    Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism
  • Eli Berman on Religious TerrorismProf. Eli Berman, professor of economics at UC-San Diego and Research Director of International Security Studies at the University of California’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, discusses his new book Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism. Contrary to popular notions that suicide bombers are pyschologically-distressed or economically-disadvantagted individuals, Prof. Berman discusses how radical religious groups are rational in their selection of tactics. Using Laurence Iannaccone’s theory of strict religious clubs, Berman argues that radical religious groups excel at providing social services to their members, while simultaneously filtering out “free riders.” Here we discuss the case of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel as well as the Amish. We then discuss how successful insurgency operations require that groups limit membership defection, since a defector could easily compromise the secrecy of an entire organization. Adherence to strict religious requirements (e.g., intensive religious training, dietary restrictions, distinct clothing) provides behavioral signals about the loyalty of an individual to a group, making radical religious sects an ideal recruiting ground for rebels. We do not discuss the particular grievances of various terrorist organizations; rather the discussion focuses on the organizational aspects of terrorism and insurgency. 
    The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge Studies in Social Theory, Religion and Politics)
  • Roger Finke on Religious Persecution: Roger Finke — professor of sociology and religious studies at Penn State University and director of The Association of Religion Data Archives — takes us on a journey around the globe to discover how and why religious persecution arises in some nations but not others. Based on his book The Price of Freedom Denied (co-authored with Brian Grim), Prof. Finke makes the argument that religious liberty is a vital component of all civil liberties in society. He makes the case that small violations of religious freedom (often in the form of seemingly innocuous regulations) can open the door to an erosion of other freedoms and invite various forms of religious persecution. We detail some of these regulations focusing on the importance of registration requirements for religious groups. Also, Roger challenges an interpretation of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” theses, claiming that it is not the presence of two different religious cultures within a nation that automatically gives rise to conflict, but rather the various laws that regulate different faith traditions that sets the table for whether or not conflict (and persecution) will arise. We pepper our discussion with examples from France, Russia, China, Japan, Iran, Nigeria and the United States. 
    The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity
  • Philip Jenkins on Global ChristianityIn a conversation that covers two millenia of Christian history and every region of the world, noted historian Philip Jenkins – the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of the Humanities at the Pennsylvania State University and Distinguished Senior Fellow at Baylor University’s Institute for Study of Religion — talks about the ever-changing nature of Christianity. Our discussion begins with a reminder that a strong understanding of history is essential for understanding the contemporary religious world. Contrary to the popular notion that Christianity is a European faith, Jenkins reveals that this religious tradition had an extensive geographic reach through its inception up until the 13th century. The podcast then turns attention to how Christianity has been growing and changing in the “global South,” which includes Africa, Asia and Latin America. We see how Pentecostal and charismatic forms of Christianity tend to predominate in these regions and discuss how Christians on these continents view The Bible. We end our discussion with some speculation on how religion in the “global South” may be influencing Christian beliefs and practices in Europe and North America.
    More God, Less Crime: Why Faith Matters and How It Could Matter More
  • Byron Johnson on More God, Less Crime: How effective are religious-based rehabilitation programs in reducing recidivism among released prisoners?  We invite Prof. Byron Johnson, co-founder and director of Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion and author of More God, Less Crime, to discuss his comprehensive research into this issue. We begin with a review of how church-state partnerships have helped to reduce juvenile delinquency in places such as Boston and Philadelphia, and then turn out attention to general theories of whether incarcerated individuals can be rehabilitated or not. Based on numerous studies, including his own, Byron takes a firm stance in favor of rehabilitation and argues forcefully for faith-based educational programs in jail. We then talk about Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship and devote a significant amount of time to examining the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) sponsored by the Prison Fellowship in a Houston-area penitentary. Byron reviews how inmates are accepted into the program, what the IFI entails, and reveals that graduates of this program show a remarkable decrease in recidivism rates. We address the methodological skeptics by talking about some of the limitations of the study and Byron makes a good case that participants in this program are, if anything, the least likely to show any progress yet the IFI program does yield an insipiring success rate. The last part of our interview focuses on the critical need for “aftercare” — i.e., developing church-based mentoring programs for paroled or released convicts. While most of the energy in prison ministries is devoted to what goes on inside the jail walls, the long-term success of these programs requires extensive follow up when former prisoners are released into environments that can often tempt them back into old habits. We also discuss the opportunity for greater partnerships between religious organizations and local, state, and federal agencies that are cost-effective and an attractive alternative to purely government-based.
    God's Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics
  • Daniel Philpott on Religious Resurgence & Democratization: Is the global resurgence in public religiosity over the past 40 years linked in any way to the increase in democratic governance over the same period of time? Prof. Dan Philpott (Notre Dame) covers the historical trends of church-state relations and discusses how changes in political theologies and the increasing independence of religious organizations have provided a fertile ground for political democratization in some corners of the world. We examine how and why some religious traditions have been involved in promoting democracy under authoritarian conditions. Our discussion turns toward some speculation about the future of the “Arab Spring” at the end of our interview. This is the first part of a discussion of the book “God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics.”
    God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades
  • Rodney Stark on the CrusadesWhat motivated the Crusaders to pick up arms and travel to the Holy Land? How did a group of Christian soldiers succeed in winning battle after battle even when they were significantly outnumbered? Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University and co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion, reviews a number of contemporary myths about the Crusades and offers some new and revived explanations for what happened in the conflict between Christians and Muslims in the 12th and 13th centuries. We discuss the differences in technological innovation between the two civilizations, why the Crusaders did not focus much attention on Spain, and why the topic of the Crusades has become so salient in contemporary times. This podcast is based upon Prof. Stark’s bestselling book, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades.
    Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...and Other Lies You've Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media
  • Bradley R.E. Wright on Christian StereotypesBradley R.E. Wright, associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, discusses his new book, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told. Is it true that evangelical Protestants have a divorce rate equal to or higher than the secular public? Are Christians really more honest than their unchurched counterparts? Are evangelicals simply poor, white Southerners who are easily led? Using data from a variety of sources, Prof. Wright challenges some commonly held myths about Protestantism in America — myths that are not only propogated by a secular media, but often perpetuated by Christian leaders themselves! We end the podcast with an observation that it may be harmful for Christian ministers to alarm the public about the decline of religion and Christianity.
Some of you may have noticed that in an earlier post I discussed Byron Johnson's finding that increased religiosity is inversely related to crime and delinquency ("More God, Less Crime").  Chances are, I'll return to some of the podcasts listed above (and their related books) in later posts. All of them offer interesting insights of which many, if not most, people are unaware.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Satirizing Mormons Redux

The Rise of MormonismIn a recent post ("Broadway, Memphis (the Musical), and The Book of Mormon (the Musical)"), I reflected on why it was seemingly OK to make fun of some religious groups (e.g., Mormons) but not others (e.g., Muslims). Of course, the Mormon Church (officially the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is not the only religious group that is occasionally subject to ridicule, but I can't keep from wondering why the Mormons have become one of the targets. I suspect that part of the reason is that many Americans simply think that Mormons are "weird" and thus worthy of scorn, in spite of the fact that those who have actually taken the time to study Latter-day Saints have discovered that Mormons tend to act in ways and like the same types of things that most Americans do. Take, for instance, the following list of well-known Mormons; as far as I know, within their respective professions, they weren't a whole lot different than everyone else:
  • Jack Anderson, Pulitzer Prize newspaper columnist and journalist
  • David Archuleta, Runner-up in American Idol (Season 7)
  • David H. Bailey, Co-author of an algorithm about pi.
  • Stanford Cazier, President of California State University, Chico, and Utah State University
  • Stephen R. Covey, Author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Dennis Eckersley, Hall of Fame pitcher
  • Henry Eyring, Professor of Chemistry at Princeton University and the University of Utah
  • Gordon Gee, President of Ohio State University
  • Harmon Killebrew, Hall of Fame 1st baseman for the Minnesota Twins
  • J.W. "Bill" Marriott, Jr., Chairman and CEO, Marriott International
  • Armand Mauss, Sociologist of Religion, Washington State University
  • David Neeleman, Founder of JetBlue Airways and Azul Brazilian Airlines
  • Merlin Olsen, Hall of Fame defensive tackle, Los Angeles Rams
  • Anne Perry, British historical novelist; author of the William Monk and Thomas Pitt series
  • Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, (D-Nevada)
And, of course...
  • Steve Young, Hall of Fame quarterback, San Francisco 49ers
I am reminded of (and will conclude with) something that the sociologist Rodney Stark, who is not a Mormon but has studied them extensively, once wrote in the preface to his book, The Rise of Mormonism:
My "notorious" numbers (in 1984 Stark authored a paper that accurately projected the near future growth of the Mormon church) [have translated] into unwelcome calls from the media whenever they think of something new to say about or to blame the Latter-day Saints. The last few weeks before the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics were dreadful. Most of the news people who called had their agenda down pat, knew exactly what quotation they wanted from me, and were uneducable. The knew the LDS Church had brought the Olympics to Utah to "brainwash" thousands of visitors into joining their faith. I told many of them that if Mormon missionaries could work such miracles, the press would not be calling me, since, for obvious reasons, the press would have been the very first targets of LDS "brainwashing." But they simply didn't get it. Fortunately, every sportswriter who called me got it immediately, recognized it as giving the knockout punch to brainwashing charges, and went on to write sensible things about the Mormons. Do all smart journalism majors flee into the sports departments?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tithing and Stewardship

Stewardship season is coming up for many, if not most, faith communities, and in the August 23rd issue of the Christian Century I ran across an anecdote told by political scientist Michael Walzer, whom I've referenced before in posts on the Just War Tradition. In 1948, the year of Walzer's bar mitzvah, Walzer's parents took him to a Jewish fund-raising banquet. After a speech by a guest speaker, pledge cards were distributed with the expectation that they'd be filled out immediately. The owner of one of the more prominent stores in town, who also knew the financial status of most of the families present, was in charge of reviewing the pledges. If he thought a family wasn't pledging enough, he tore up the card and handed it back to them. Imagine what would happen if today's churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples ran pledge drives like that!

According to Walzer the Hebrew word tzedakah can mean that giving is both an act of both charity and justice, which suggests that to not give what we're capable of giving to the poor is nothing less than taking something from them.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Happy Anniversary: One Year and Counting

It's hard to believe, but today marks the one year anniversary of this blog. When I started it, I wasn't sure I'd have enough to write, but 134 posts later (not including this one), it looks like my fears were misplaced.

One thing I discovered is that Google tracks how many people visit my blog (over 7,000 visits in the past year), where they're from (see below), what device they used to link to it (see below), and how many hits each post (see below). When someone just clicks on a link to the blog, the visit isn't recorded, at least not to a specific post, which means it probably underestimates the number of times each post has been visited. Nevertheless, the individual counts are probably fairly accurate in terms of which posts were more popular.  As of today, the most popular ones over the past year are:
  1. Should Christians Celebrate bin Laden's Death?
  2. On the Lighter Side: Memorable Baseball Quotes
  3. Facebook, Social Networking and Social Network Analysis
  4. That Was Awkward Billboard: Matthew 24:36
  5. The Twelve Days of Christmas
Of these, the first one has been visited more than five times as much as the second. In fact, it attracted more visits than the next four combined.

To be sure, because the more recent posts haven't been around as long, all else being equal, they should have had fewer visits. With that in mind, here are the most popular ones for the last month:
In terms of where people are from who visit my blog, the U.S. (not surprisingly) comes in first, then Costa Rica (thank you Gary and Mylinda), the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Canada, India, the Philippines, Germany, Australia, and the Netherlands. I've also attracted visits from visitors from Ethiopia, Russia, Turkey, and Brazil. Go figure.

That's all for now. I trying to figure out what to write next...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Jury Duty

I was on call for jury duty this week, and today I reported. I was eventually dismissed by the defense attorney, which wasn't too surprising since it was a criminal case, and I spend most of my time reflecting on and writing about how to track and disrupt criminal and terrorist networks (what we often call "dark networks") -- see "Social Networks and the Fight Against Terrorism." Like many of the prospective jurors, a part of me felt annoyed by the possibility that I might be seated as one of the jurors, which is why I felt a certain sense of relief when I was asked to leave. Nevertheless, another part of me wanted to serve, in part because the case was intriguing and in part because my parents instilled in me a sense of civic duty.

That is probably why I became disgusted with prospective jurors who come up with the lamest excuses as to why they can't serve. I assume that if they're ever on trial, they'll want a jury of their peers, but they're unwilling to do their part so that others are afforded the same courtesy. I guess they shouldn't complain if the wheels of justice don't turn like they want them to.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Broadway, Memphis (the Musical), and The Book of Mormon (the Musical)

I recently returned from a family vacation to New York (and DC) where amongst other things we saw the Broadway play, Memphis: A New Musical, which won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Musical. It tells the story of Huey Calhoun, who becomes the first white DJ in Memphis to play black music on the radio and TV, and Felicia, an African-American singer who hopes to become a star.  Somewhat predictably, Huey and Felicia fall in love, but because of existing laws and prejudice, they can't get married. Nevertheless, people learn of their relationship, and they suffer the consequences. They soldier on

The play is roughly based on the life of Dewey Phillips, a Memphis disc jockey who was one of the first white DJs to play black music in the 1950s (he was also the first to play Elvis Presley's debut record, "That's All Right/Blue Moon Of Kentucky," on the radio). Interestingly, it was first staged in 2003-04 at both the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts and the TheatreWorks in Mountain View, California before it opened on Broadway on October 19, 2009. Its national tour begins in October; if you have a chance, see it.

One of the more interesting aspects of the play is its positive portrayal of people of faith, at least African-American Christianity. Some of the play's gospel songs are among the best I've ever heard. This is somewhat in contrast to the 2011 Tony Award winning musical, The Book of Mormon, which satirizes organized religion in general and the Mormon church in particular although it portrays Mormon missionaries in a positive light, as well-meaning and optimistic, if not a little naive and un-worldly. A central theme of the play is that many religious stories are rigid and out of touch but that religion can do a lot of good as long as it's taken metaphorically and not literally. The Mormon church issued a "measured" response to the play. Its head of public affairs, Michael Otterson, remarked that "parody isn't reality, and it's the very distortion that makes it appealing and often funny. The danger is not when people laugh but when they take it seriously—if they leave a theater believing that Mormons really do live in some kind of a surreal world of self-deception and illusion." He then went on to outline various humanitarian efforts that Mormon missionaries have been involved with in Africa in recent years.

Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder how a play that satirized Islam would be greeted. Would it win nine Tony Awards? Would it receive critical acclaim? Would it elicit a "measured" response? Would anybody be even willing to produce such a play? My sense is that the answer to all of these questions is "No" (although I'd love to be proven wrong) in spite of the fact that the parallels between Islam and Mormonism are remarkable. To wit:
  • Both Mohammad and Joseph Smith claim to have been visited by an angel who told them that the existing religious traditions had distorted the truth and were being called upon to reform the existing forms of religion in their respective communities
  • Both received new revelations that eventually became regarded as scripture (i.e., the Qur'an and the Book of Mormon)
  • Both initially shared these new revelations with only friends and family before proclaiming them to a wider audience
  • Both were persecuted for doing so (Joseph Smith was actually killed)
  • Both are referred to as "The Prophet" by their respective traditions
  • Both took multiple wives
  • Both religious traditions hold very traditional views considering the role of women (there are, of course, exceptions)
  • Both religious traditions ascribe to a relatively conservative morality (in fact they are quite similar)
There are, of course, differences between the two faith traditions, but I suspect that the reason why we can satirize one and not the other is that it's culturally acceptable to make fun of Mormons but not of Muslims. Don't misunderstand. I'm not advocating making fun of Muslims. But if it isn't appropriate to make fun of Muslims, then why, pray tell, is it OK to make fun of Mormons? I think its hypocritical. I think it's wrong. I think it's an example of political correctness run amok.

Some years ago the historian Philip Jenkins wrote a book, The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice, in which he argued (with considerable supporting data) that offenses against Roman Catholics, unlike those against groups such as Judaism and Islam, are rarely censored and never considered hate crimes (if you're wondering, Jenkins is not a Roman Catholic). I can't help but wonder if Mormons should be added to his list.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Overuse, Not Curveballs, Hurts Young Arms

According to a recent study, which included more than 1,300 pitchers inLittle League, high school and college, throwing curveballs does not lead to an increased risk of arm injuries among young baseball players. Instead, the primary cause is overuse, that is, not letting young pitchers take time off from throwing ("Study: Overuse, Not Curveballs, Leads to Injuries").

The American Sports Medicine Institute, which was founded by orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, recently conducted a similar study and arrived at the same conclusion: while curveballs can be harmful if they prevent young pitchers from mastering the mechanics of throwing a baseball, they don't directly cause injuries. In fact, a separate study by the institute found that the amount of force required to throw a curveball is equal to or less than the force required for a fastball, which means that throwing a curveball may be less harmful to young arms than fastballs.

The moral of the story? If your son or daughter is a pitcher, make sure they take time off from pitching. Let them play other sports: basketball, soccer, cross-country, golf, volleyball. They'll help increase your child's coordination and dexterity, which will benefit their baseball playing abilities, while at the same time giving their arms a much needed rest.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Research on Religion Podcast: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom

Here's a weekly podcast that was recently brought to my attending and often discusses interesting topics "Research on Religion." It is sponsored by Baylor University and hosted by Tony Gill, who is a political science professor at University of Washington. You can access it through iTunes or at the podcast's website.  Some of the more interesting ones include:
  1. Philip Jenkins on Global Christianity
  2. Rodney Stark on the Crusades
  3. Robert Coote on the 27 Most Popular Hymns & Amazing Grace
  4. Brad R.E. Wright on Christian Stereotypes
Warning: Many of these podcasts challenge the accepted wisdom, so be prepared to hear things that you may not have heard before.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sports Illustrated's Best Sports Songs

Greg Kelly and Sports Illustrated recently compiled what they believe is the ultimate sports playlist ("Sports Illustrated's Ultimate Playlist"). The story at SI's website is more than a list, however. It's an annotated bibliography that contains interesting background about all the songs and the artists who sang them. The website also includes links to iTunes for those who may want to download any of the songs. Here's the list:
  1. WHO KILLED DAVEY MOORE? -- Bob Dylan (1963) 
  2. SURFIN' USA -- The Beach Boys (1963) 
  3. ALL KINDS OF TIME -- Fountains of Wayne (2003) 
  4. RACING IN THE STREET -- Bruce Springsteen (1978) 
  5. THE BOXER -- Simon & Garfunkel (1969) 
  6. FIFTY-MISSION CAP -- The Tragically Hip (1992) 
  7. CENTERFIELD -- John Fogerty (1985) 
  8. HIGH EXPECTATIONS -- Common (1997) 
  9. 3RD BASE, DODGER STADIUM -- Ry Cooder (2005) 
  10. MUHAMMAD ALI -- Faithless (2001)
  11. GOD'S FOOTBALLER -- Billy Bragg (1991)
  12. BOOM BOOM MANCINI -- Warren Zevon (1987)
  13. DUK KOO KIM -- Sun Kil Moon (2003)
  14. SONG FOR SONNY LISTON -- Mark Knopfler (2004)
  15. THE BALLAD OF BJORN BORG -- Pernice Brothers (2001)
  16. BOXING -- Ben Folds Five (1995)
  17. SPEEDWAY AT NAZARETH -- Mark Knopfler (2000)
  18. FUGUE FOR TINHORNS -- Guys and Dolls (1950)
  19. TOURNAMENT OF HEARTS -- The Weakerthans (2007)
  20. TESSIE -- Dropkick Murphys (2004)
  21. HOCKEY -- Jane Siberry (1989)
  22. THE HITTER -- Bruce Springsteen (2005)
  23. QUEEN'S GAMBIT -- GZA and DJ Muggs (2005)
  24. LAUGHING RIVER -- Robert Earl Keen and Greg Brown (2009)
  25. MUDFOOTBALL -- Jack Johnson (2001)
  26. DREAM TEAM -- Spearhead (1994)
  27. MUNICH AIR DISASTER 1958 -- Morrissey (2004)
  28. A DYING CUB FAN'S LAST REQUEST -- Steve Goodman (1983)
  29. SHOOTING HOOPS -- G. Love and Special Sauce (1994)
  30. THE WARRIOR'S CODE -- Dropkick Murphys (2005)
  31. BASKETBALL -- Kurtis Blow (1984)
  32. DARRYL DAWKINS' SOUND OF LOVE -- Screaming Headless Torsos (2001)
  33. CHESAPEAKE -- Mike Aiken (2003)
  34. VAN LINGLE MUNGO -- Dave Frishberg (1969)
  35. STEWBALL -- Leadbelly (1940)
  36. AMERICA'S FAVORITE PASTIME -- Todd Snider (2009)
  37. LET THE BIG HORSE RUN -- John Stewart (1975)
  38. DID YOU SEE JACKIE ROBINSON HIT THAT BALL? -- Buddy Johnson Orchestra (1949)
  39. THE BALLAD OF EDDIE KLEPP -- Chuck Brodsky (1996)
  40. LEVITATE -- Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, 2009

Thursday, August 4, 2011

More God, Less Crime

More God, Less Crime: Why Faith Matters and How It Could Matter More"Imagine," social scientist Byron Johson begins in his recent article "The Religious Antidote" (First Things, August/September 2011, pp. 23-24), "that a systematic review of the sociology literature found that, in 247 of 273 relevant studies, increasing religiosity was connected with increasing crime or delinquency. It is hard to imagine that findings like this would go unnoticed... Commissions would no doubt be established, Congress might convene hearings, and there would be a general scramble to determine how and why religion causes crime. Perhaps significant new funding would be made available in order to investigate why faith is linked to increasing criminal activity and delinquency and what might be done to compat the deleterious impact on religion."

Johnson's thought experiment is, of course, just that. In fact, in a recent review of 273 studies on religion and crime published between 1944 and 2010, he found just the opposite ("More God, Less Crime: Why Faith Matters and How It Could Matter More"): 90% of the studies (243) found that increased religiosity is connected with significant decreases in crime and delinquency, while 9% (24 studies) found no relation between religion and crime, and only 1% (2 studies) found that religiosity is connected with increased crime and delinquency. Why does religion exert such a powerful effect? Johnson identifies at least four reasons:
  1. Youth raised in congregations benefit from multiple social support networks. Faith communities can provide positive peers as well as adult role models who help them act more responsibly.
  2. Many youth raised in churches internalize their faith communities' teachings and beliefs.
  3. Consistent church attendance provides a venue for youth to be nurtured in their faith, and spiritual development may be the factor that helps youth, especially those from disadvantaged communities, to be resilient in the midst of the crime and poverty that is prevalent in many communities.
  4. Religion not only protects youth from crime and delinquency, but it also promotes pro-social behavior. Religiously committed youth are more likely to earn better grades and make better decisions, such as staying in school.
According to Johnson, however, the positive effects of religion in reducing crime are seldom, if ever, mentioned in criminal-justice and criminology text books. One can only wonder why.

If you want to learn more, you can pick up Johnson's book, or you can listen to a "Research on Religion" podcast on the topic ("Byron Johnson on More God, Less Crime").  Research on Religion is a weekly podcast sponsored by Baylor University and hosted by University of Washington Political Scientist Anthony Gill.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Deathly Hallows, Part II: A Palimpsest?

palimpsest is a page from a scroll or book from which the text has been scraped off and used again. The original writing was washed off using milk and oat bran. However, with the passing of time, faint remains of the former writing sometimes reappear such that it can be read and interpreted.

A number of ancient works have survived only as palimpsests. The best-known in the legal world was discovered in 1816 by Niebuhr and Savigny in the library of Verona cathedral. Underneath letters of St. Jerome and Gennadius they found an almost complete text of The Institutes of Gaius, probably the first student's textbook on Roman law. And about about sixty palimpsest manuscripts of the Greek New Testament have survived.

The term has been broadened and applied in different contexts. For example, it has been used to refer to a plaque that has been engraved on what was originally the back. In planetary astronomy, the ancient craters on icy moons of the outer Solar System whose relief has almost disappeared and have left behind only a trace, are known as palimpsests. And the opening credits of the film version of The Name of the Rose describe the film as "A palimpsest of the novel by Umberto Eco," which (if you read the book's introduction) is something of a palimpsest itself (or at least Eco wants you to think that it is).

I'm unaware of anyone who has referred to the second part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a palimpsest of the book by the same name, but it strikes me as an apt description. Like all movies it has its own logic and narrative but a trace of the book remains and is detectable. Luckily for Harry Potter fans, especially fans of the books, the final movie does better than most movies in terms of staying "true" to the spirit of the book. It obviously couldn't keep every scene, conversation, and thought in a two-hour and ten minute movie, but it adheres relatively closely to the book's story line and intentions. Its retelling of "The Princes's Tale" (Chapter 33 in the book) is brilliant movie-making (and should win Alan Rickman an Oscar), and I think the movie's version of "King's Cross" (Chapter 35) does a better job in explaining what happened on the night Harry got his scar than the book does. I would've preferred that the final confrontation between Voldemort and Harry had included some of the verbal jousting that is in the book, but you can't have it all.

I think it is no surprise that the ratings of this final installment in the Harry Potter movies ratings (see Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and Rotten Tomatoes) are not only higher than any of the other Harry Potter movies, but higher than most movies, period. Not a bad way to end the series.