1st Global Conference
Spirituality And….Culture

including a guided tour of Belém and the Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon

Saturday 17th March 2018 – Sunday 18th March 2018
Lisbon, Portugal

Conference Abstracts and Papers

To Prefer a Preference for the Poor
Benny Mattis
Independent scholar
Townsend, MA, USA

Key Words:
Personhood, Democracy, Religion, Education, Dennett, Justice

In hopes of minimizing the growth of anti-democratic ideologies by way of childhood indoctrination, Dennett has argued that children ought to be taught about all religions, in order that they may decide for themselves among competing worldviews upon the sufficient development of their rational faculties. However, if anti-democratic ideologies are bound to arise through the operation of reason itself, even in the absence of religious childhood indoctrination, then indoctrination of a sort may be necessary precisely to counteract the antidemocratic belief systems opposed by Dennett.

This paper argues that, even without a cultural bias in early childhood religious education, antidemocratic ideologies of the kind Dennett opposes will tend nonetheless to develop. This position is based on a thought experiment revealing that, all else (including theologies one might learn about as a child) being equal, persons initially characterized (per Dennett’s 1976 article “Conditions of Personhood”) as rational and democratic will tend to transform, through the operation of their own fully-developed capacities for reason, into anti-democratic extremists for God or for the poor.

If we wait until children have fully developed the rational faculties characteristic of mature persons, then it may be too late to inoculate them against the germs of tyranny dormant in personhood itself. In light of this, Dennett’s aim for liberal impartiality in childhood religious education appears inadequate to the task of cultivating democracy. Considering the nature of extremisms to which persons as such are prone, this paper suggests a bias in childhood religious education favoring theological interpretations aligned with the doctrine of God’s preferential option for the poor. Childhood indoctrination in accordance with a proper understanding of this theological principle could, by anticipating and acknowledging truths at the extremes of reason, strengthen persons against temptations of extremism in the name of those truths later in life.

Can a Black Nationalist Spirituality Advance Equality in the Face of Rising White Nationalism?
Alan Scot Willis
Northern Michigan University, USA

Key Words:

The fundamental question I wish to explore is this: Can a black nationalist spirituality provide the basis for a broad advancement of equality in the face of rising white nationalism. I am trained as an historian and have investigated the religious nationalism of a lesser-known Christian black nationalist university president– M. C. Allen—as well as the religious path taken by Malcolm X. I propose to look closely at spiritually-based propositions of such religious black nationalists and inquire about these ideas potential role in movements attempting to gain broad, and interracial, support. This inquiry, while it cannot be exhaustive, posits that spiritually based black nationalism has a place in broad based movements alongside the more inclusive black spirituality espoused by leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and current NAACP leader for North Carolina, William J. Barber.

Among the problematic questions is this: Can a black nationalist spirituality empower black communities while simultaneously promoting secular inclusiveness and cooperation? My suggestion is that a black nationalist spirituality can be a source of power against the spiritual and secular onslaught of white supremacy—both overt and covert—but need not necessarily denigrate non-blacks. In this, I posit that black nationalist spirituality can be fundamentally different from white nationalist spirituality which, it seems, necessarily denigrates non-whites.

This issue may, admittedly, be primarily an issue in the United States where the Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified “Black Identity Extremists” as a rising terror threat; nevertheless, black nationalist spirituality has been and may also continue to be solidly rooted in a Pan Africanist perspective that might also contribute to African ability to resist intrusive speculative capital especially in terms of large scale land acquisitions that substantively disrupt communities.

Capitalist Colonialism, Social Change, Healing, and the Resurgence of Critical Spirituality
Taqdir Bhandal
University of British Columbia

Key Words:
decolonization, spirituality, modernity, engaged Buddhism, land-based practice, self-awareness, intersectional feminism, Indigeneity

Centering the theme of Spirituality… and Culture is a timely necessity given the current state of the world.  Due to the increasing interconnectivity of people through rapid advances in technology, never have local communities been more aware of the tremendous challenges faced by all humans and non-humans on the planet.  In the socio-political realm, we have masculine dictators and oligarchs who promote the views of free-market fundamentalism, hetero-patriarchal control of bodies, and the continued colonial subjugation of racialized people all over the globe.  At the same time, and perhaps more imminent is the threat and reality of environmental destruction and exploitation.

As a PhD student studying the molasses like viscosity of social justice movements in a secularized, democratic society like Canada I find myself turning to the divine teachings of Buddhism and Indigenous land-based as a spiritual necessity.  As such, in this paper and presentation I aim to explore the social change and healing possibilities of reconstructing engaged, critical spirituality and religion with social justice.  Waziyatawin, a Dakota scholar, impresses the spiritual shift required to turn our human world away from the disastrous trajectory of a capitalist/colonial-driven, fossil-fuel dependent society.  Similarly almost 50 years ago, Vine Deloria, author of God is Red writes “the imminent and expected destruction of the life cycle of the world ecology can be prevented by a radical shift in outlook from our present naïve conception of this world as a testing ground to a more mature view of the universe as a comprehensive matrix of life forms…making this shift in viewpoint is essentially religious, not economic or political” (1973, p. 290). In my presentation and paper, I will explore my own personal experience as a decolonial, intersectional feminist of turning to spirituality for social change and healing, in addition to current international research and activism that also takes on this agenda.

Spirituality Gone Wrong?
Dominic Kirby
Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland

-Missing Abstract-

Research Insights into Demonic Possession and Effective Exorcism Techniques
Jayant Athavale
Maharshi Adhyatma Vishwavidyalay
(Maharshi University of Spirituality)
Goa, India

Key Words:
demons, ghosts, exorcists, faith healers, exorcism, demonic possession, spiritual root causes of problems, spiritual practice.

Tour (c While every major religion believes in demonic forces (negative energies) and has exorcists, it is a topic that is feared by most and is shrouded in secrecy. With 20 years of spiritual research in this field, the Maharshi University of Spirituality and the Spiritual Science Research Foundation have learnt that the phenomenon of being affected by negative energies and demonic possession is far more widespread than what is commonly believed. While distress due to negative energies is just one of the types of spiritual problems, it is a major one that affects all sections of society. It can cause various problems in a person’s life such as physical illnesses, financial problems, marital problems, mental disorders, etc. One needs an advanced level of sixth sense to diagnose whether the cause of a problem is due to negative energies or due to physical and psychological causes. Negative energies target people who have more personality defects. Personality defects weaken their minds and increase their vulnerability to negative energy attacks. They also target people who may have a sound intellect and mind, but who have a lot of ego and pride.

Due to a lack of sixth sense ability, many psychiatrists mistake the signs of demonic possession for a psychiatric disorder. They make efforts to treat it at the psychological level, when in fact spiritual problems should be treated at the spiritual level. Spiritual practice that adheres to universal principles and spiritual healing remedies can be undertaken by anyone to overcome and protect themselves from distress caused by negative energies. Such practices allow one to become self-sufficient and hence, one does not have to rely on exorcists and faith healers. The time taken to free oneself from demonic possession depends on the intensity of one’s spiritual practice versus the strength of the possessing entity.

Tour (circa 3 hours)

The bus will leave promptly at 15.45 from outside the conference hotel. At the end of the tour you have the option to either catch the bus back to the conference hotel or remain in Lisbon city centre.

Doors of Hope – Baha’i Western-Women Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
Shay Rozen

Key Words:

Since its beginning, the Baha’i faith saw pilgrimage as one of the rituals that the believer should fulfill, at least once, during his lifetime. According to Kitab-i-Aqdas (the most holy book), the destination of the pilgrims should be the house of the Bab in Shiraz and the house of Bahaullah in Bagdad. However, during the time, especially after Bahaullah passed away, and due to difficulties reaching Iran or Iraq, the focus of Baha’i pilgrimage became the cities of Akko and Haifa (Palestine) that became the Baha’is “holy land”.

At the end of the 19th century, as the Baha’i faith started to spread around the western world, women became the core and majority of the believers of the new religion that emerge from the east and started to execute pilgrimage to Akko and Haifa. Among those early women pilgrims were Phoebe Hearst, Lady Bloomfield, Genevieve Coy and others. As part of their western culture, some of those women wrote diaries of their journey that became important source for studying Baha’is History, Geography spared and the development of Baha’is pilgrimage tradition, heritage and performance.

In my presentation, I will survey some of the early Baha’i-western-women pilgrims and discuss, according to their diaries, some aspects of the developments in Baha’i pilgrimage during the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Among those aspects will be the development of route and sites of the pilgrimage trail, the traditions and performance that became part of the pilgrimage heritage and the influence of eastern pilgrimage traditions on the new western believers.

Religious Portraits: British Women and their Encounters with Persian Islam and Zoroastrianism
Serena Vianello
Ca’ Foscari University, Venice, Italy

Key Words:
travel writing, women, Persia, religion, cross-cultural encounters, culture clash, diversity.

The rapid boost to transport innovations and the imperialistic expansion which characterized nineteenth-century Britain resulted in an increasing amount of travellers, both men and women, who journeyed across the Empire and beyond for a wide range of reasons. As many other countries of the so-called “East”, Persia represented a significant case in the history of British travel and, consequently, travel writing. Indeed, political and cultural motives underlay British travellers’ journeys to and across this country, which was strategically important for the British, and was imbued with the exotic imagery of the Arabian Nights. Diplomats and their wives, scholars, missionaries, and leisure travellers visited Persia across the nineteenth century and decided to translate their experience into writing. Their travel narratives are a combination of daily incidents, curious anecdotes, and personal musings about Persian landscapes, people and traditions, among which religion occupies a central position.

Both Islam and Zoroastrianism made a significant impression on British travellers, because they added a large amount of exotic novelty to their travel experiences and excited different, often contrasting, emotions. I will focus on the descriptions of religious practices provided by two British women travellers who visited Persia at the end of the nineteenth century, that is to say Gertrude Bell and Ella Sykes. The former published Safar Nameh, Persian Pictures: A Book of Travel in 1894, while the latter reported her Persian travels in two works, Through Persia on a Side-Saddle in 1898 and Persia and its People in 1910. British women appeared to be particularly interested in depicting Persian religious customs, especially when they involved local women or traditional celebrations. In their narratives, they do not limit themselves to mere descriptions, but display an alternation of culture clash and relativism, judgmental attitudes and cross-cultural reflections, bewilderment and acceptance of diversity.

A Buddhist Perspective on Global Warming – Our Irresistible Fate?
Shimo Sraman
Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, Ayutthaya, Thailand

Abhijeet Chowdhury
Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, Ayutthaya, Thailand

Key Words:
Environmental crisis, Global warming, Buddhist teachings, dependent orgination

As far as it’s concerned that an issue of global warming has been debated around the world and it is bringing more attention to the people now. This is perhaps owing to recent natural catastrophes witnessed in different parts of the planet in which the world’s scientists have expressed their concerns about the imminent environmental crisis, believed to be caused by humans upsetting of the natural balance. From a Buddhist perspective, in this paper will be attempted by me to consider how the core Buddhist teachings reflect on this global issue which is threatening human well-being worldwide. There are many interesting points to be considered, some of them might have already been studied by others such as scholars, researchers, or authors. However, in this paper, I will be trying to point out which is Buddhist teachings and fatalism. So the question is raised as follows: is global warming our irresistible fate? If so, what is the Buddhist attitude towards this fate?

Furthermore, this paper has been divided by me into four parts. To depict global warming, first, I will discuss background information regarding the global warming phenomenon. Second part will deal with an analysis of this phenomenon according to the principle of dependent origination, however, other Buddhist tenets will be mentioned and referenced where it seems relevant. In the third part which is central, an argument on Buddhism and fatalism will be debated. Herein, the teaching of action will be analyzed in comparison and contrast with the concept of fatalism. Last but least, from the proceeding discussion, this paper will culminate with some Buddhist stances towards global warming crisis.

Swami Vivekananda’s Spiritual Universalism: Uniting All Cultures in the Modern Global Village
Monica Prabhakar
Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi, Delhi, India

Key Words:
Universal Spiritualism, Spiritual Humanism, Universal Religion, Terrorism, Exploitation, Advaita Vedanta, Atman (soul), Brahman, Culture

In his famous speech at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago on September 11, 1895, Swami Vivekananda quoted from the Bhagavadgita: “As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.” Vivekananda’s call for universal spiritualism here is the call of the hour amidst tensions between nation states, terrorism, ethnic strife, abject poverty and exploitation. For Vivekananda every human being is the same in as much as she/he has a soul and is thereby potentially spiritually free.

Vivekananda’s spiritual humanism lies in the bonding relation of each human with something transcendental, which could be the Brahman of Advaita Vedanta or it could be Allah, Christ, or some other divinity, or nature and ancestors as it is for many tribal religions. The transcendental realm may vary according to each faith, and we must understand each faith to accept their metaphysics. The essential feature of Vivekananda’s worldview is that what is universal and common to all humans is a spiritual pursuit. Vivekananda extensively discusses “universal soul” because he believes in an Advaitic monistic fashion that we are all one as far as transcendental reality is concerned.

We can now properly understand and assess Swami Vivekananda’s description of universalism: “if there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one which will have no location in place or time; which will be infinite like the God it will preach, and whose sun will shine upon the followers of Krishna and of Christ on saints and sinners alike; which will not be Brahminic or Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these, and still have infinite space for development.”

Travel and Spirituality: A North African Perspective
Mohamed Laamiri
University Mohamed I, OUJDA, Morocco

Key Words:
Spirituality, Travel accounts, North Africa, Islamic sainthood, Benedictine monastery, political spirituality, Christian-Islamic cohabitation…

The paper is a comparative approach to Islamic and Christian spirituality as lived in North Africa through travel and exile.

The 19th century North Africa was marked by an intense spiritual life which served to compensate for the country’s economic and political crisis. This state favoured the appearance and the expansion of powerful spiritual orders, Zawiyas,  and sacred shrines which filled the void left by the absence of a strong central government.

A first part of the paper shall address Islamic spirituality as perceived by 19th c. European travellers to North Africa; it will consider how those travellers tried to understand the Moorish cultural otherness through local religious practices.  It will analyze how travel accounts rendered practices and rites of sainthood and how spiritual orders played an important political and social role in 19th c. Moroccan life.

For the sake of comparison, the second part of the paper shall consider a unique Christian spiritual experience lived by Benedictine Monks in the heart of the Atlas Mountains and among Islamic spiritual orders. In 1952 twenty Benedictine monks left the Abbey of En-Calcat in southwestern France and sailed to Morocco to establish the most extraordinary monastery in the world in the Middle Atlas Mountains, the only community of Christian monks in all of Moslem North Africa baptised Priory of Christ the King and known as Toumliline. The paper will discuss how the two spiritualities –Islamic and Christian- co-habited in the middle of Berber Atlas population.

The Pertinence of the Upanisadic Understanding of Consciousness in the Contemporary World
Vengala Sujata Raju
Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi, India

Key Words:
Mandukya Upanishad, Hindu Philosophy, Consciousness/Self, Advaita Vedanta

This paper aims to analyse the Advaita Vedanta study of Consciousness for its relevance in the contemporary world torn apart by caste, creed, gender and religious differences. The understanding of the nature of Consciousness stands as a statement of hope, an injunction to live a just and virtuous life, to pursue spiritual knowledge and to transcend the delusion of both the “other” and suffering. My analysis will provide a method for experiencing the spiritual centre of human existence.

The Mandukya Upanishad, one of the principal philosophical treatises brings out the nature of Consciousness through a comprehensive and rigorous investigation of the three states, namely, wakeful, dream and deep sleep, which reveals that Consciousness is non-dual, continuous and pervasive in and through these three states of experience. The experiences of these three states radically differ from one another, yet the one who goes through them remains the same. The evidence of memory in the form “I am that” shows its oneness in all the three states. One knows, “It is the same ‘I’ that was asleep and dreamt is now awake.”

Consciousness is described as essentially a non-dualistic state. It can only be expressed through negation. Negation of all attributes does not mean that it is a mere void, as all illusory appearances have a real substratum. Consciousness is the substratum for all appearances including the body and the phenomenal world. Consciousness is not a characteristic of mind but self–manifesting principle of awareness. It is the Subject, not in the sense of ‘knower’/‘cognizer’, but in the sense that it is the ultimate revealing principle, the transcendental a-priori, which itself is not revealed by anything else.

The revelation of the Consciousness and the falsification of the three states are simultaneous and not successive in time. Consciousness is the essence of the knowledge of one’s Self, which is to be realised.

The Pragmatic Relevance of Traditional Indian Philosophies in the Contemporary Meaning of Spirituality and Cultural World-views
Rekha Navneet
University of Delhi, India

Key Words:
Yoga, Vedanta, Spiritual, Cultural, World-view, Indian, Philosophical, Traditional, Pragmatic, Global.

This paper has focussed on a viable continuum that can be formed, between two prominent traditional Indian systems of Philosophy; viz. Vedanta and Yoga, and their pragmatic pertinence in the contemporary meanings of spirituality and the cultural world view. The Bhagvadgita, an epic poem, has wonderfully combined the main tenets of these two philosophies and suggested a practical application of them. The paper explicates that these wisdom treatises hold a critical relevance not only in understanding and addressing the twenty first century Indian social-cultural ethos and the meaning of Spirituality, but also in placing them in a global context. The present day meaning of spirituality imply going beyond the parochial meaning of community identity, and pursuing an integrated perspective of mental and physical wellness. The digital-online world has united the societies culturally across the globe. Yoga philosophy and practice, has already been heralded, across continents, as a powerful mode of alleviating mental and physical wellness. Likewise, the two main tenets of Vedanta, renunciation and maya; which is generally understood as a virtual reality have been contextualised   to highlight their pragmatic significance in the present day world. The present paper has analysed the Vedanta’s concept of māyā/ virtual truth as a potent theory to address both the relevance and problematic of the digitalised and online world, the new cultural world-view beyond Geographical borders. The concept of renunciation, on the other hand, has been explicated, in the paper, as a viable guiding concept to manage a balance between consumerism and contentment on the one hand, and integrating diversity with a unified view, on the other. The primary intent, in the paper, has been on emphasising that these traditional Indian notions have a critical significance in influencing both the local and the global socio- cultural and spiritual ethos in the present day world.

Culture, Spirituality and Health Illness Behaviour: An African perspective
Erhabor Idemudia
North-West University, (Mafikeng Campus), South Africa

Key Words:

Africa is a continent that is rich with diverse cultures. In Africa, health and social behaviours are anchored on culture with spiritual underpinnings. These underpinnings have frameworks within religious beliefs and practices. The various branches of the Social Sciences, including Psychology, understand that neither health nor ill health occur randomly within populations. Both are rooted in social processes such as the pattern of social interactions between individuals or groups defined as cultural bond based on values and norms, which help perpetuate patterns of health. Studies have shown that health and or illness are culturally defined and treated, since cultural meaning systems inform aspects of illness and some diseases are culturally specific and spiritually explained. Unfortunately the percentage of variance explained by culture and spirituality on health issues in an African community is neglected and as such deserves special attention.

The aim of this paper therefore is to understand in detail the cultural and spiritual underpinnings of health/illness behaviour, wellbeing and theory implications from an African perspective. Cultural understanding of Illness development and wellbeing is about understanding the process of thought and how illness is perceived with spiritual explanations and the theoretical implications of these cognitions and the consequences it has for behavioural outcomes in prevention and management.

The links between indigenous theories of a mind-body perspective, conflicts/stress, solidarity and breakdown will be reviewed to explain the culture-spiritual connections in Africa. Not only do cultural definitions influence the spiritual interpretation of an event as stressful, but also our understanding of the role of life events depends on the cognitions of such people. This paper intends to demonstrate how these cultural cognitions affect behaviour outcomes in terms of culture and spiritual dimensions.

The Structure of Illness Space: Video and Illness Experience as Spiritual Practice
Nicholas Serenati
Department of Communication
Flagler College, USA

Key Words:

Personal Spiritual Inquiry (PSI) in a post-traumatic existence creates a dialectical complexity between the past and the present – living in the moment while reliving the past. However, the ability to recover the past in trauma is paradoxically entwined with the inability to gain access. In order to access trauma memory, a process of PSI rooted in Buddhist thinking creates contact with these memories while focusing deeply on what Joseph Goldstein calls, ‘wise investigations’. In Western Buddhism, ‘wise investigations’ are foundational to the pursuit of happiness and ‘resonate strongly with scientific and psychological paradigms’.

In this project, the intersection of these paradigms that organize my research’s PSI resides in meditative practice, digital media production and a post-traumatic existence with the illness, Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). The memory of illness experience is structured and expressed by the concept of the house. Author and French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s theoretical thinking influences this investigation by mapping a connection between phenomenology (illness experience) and architecture (the conceptual house). In the seminal text, The Poetics of Space, Bachelard claimed the house to be ‘the greatest power of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind’. Through the lens of Bachelard’s thinking, illness experience becomes represented by the image of the house as a signifier of decay, and the house as a signifier of a cocoon. The PSI framework of this research attempts to recollect trauma memory while creatively assigning metaphorical thinking to the emotional and spiritual journey of illness experience. The evidence derived from this research is an experimental documentary entitled, The Structure of Illness Spacev. As a conduit for spiritual growth, the creative rendering of this research is aimed at achieving new knowledge involving Personal Spiritual Inquiry practice while simultaneously performing as artistic expression in healing from illness trauma.

John Ruskin’s Art Criticism and Spirituality
Emma Sdegno
Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia
Sezione di Anglistica

Key Words:
Victorian literature; John Ruskin; Tintoret; travel; Venice; art criticism; guide books.

As a lecturer in Victorian literature,  my proposal stems from my current research on art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) and Venetian painting. I offer to illustrate the main points of Ruskin’s criticism in relation to the painters he appreciated, and to his view of the city of Venice as a destination of his spiritual journeys. This may open to a broader discussion on the ways in which the language of criticism relates to and voices the spiritual dimension of art.

Spirituality and Culture: Drawing Between the Lines
Erin Kavanagh
-No abstract available-