Issue 35, Final Fringe

Tagged: Religion

The AWP Primer of All AWP Primers

by David Duhr 02.02.2011

The list of AWP panels this year is overwhelming, several hundred offerings over a three-day period. It’s kinda ridiculous, when you think about it. Are we really expected to spend hours of our precious time reading through these descriptions?

Well, yes. But that doesn’t mean it’s not annoying.

Thankfully, I’m here to help.

I’ve discovered that you can learn a great deal about a panel simply by reading the first word of each line of its description. And not only that, dear readers, but I have combed through all three days of festivities–all three!–and below have laid out the top pick(s) for each and every time slot.

(You’re right, it is very generous of me. But I’m a helper. It’s in my nature. I’m a people person, people.)

(I’m also broke, so I just want to mention that if you wish to thank me for taking care of this monumental task for you, you’ll find me at the hotel bar, nursing an ice water but really wanting a whiskey and ice water.)


Make sure to show up early for these, because once word of this post spreads, the panels below are going to be in hellishly high demand.




9:00 – 10:15

R109. Zentner’s Saga









10:30... more »

more »

Brooklyn Vodou

by Jill DUrso 02.01.2011

In America, Voodoo is thought of as a mysterious force, akin to the occult and black magic. We think of voodoo dolls, curses, witches, and gory animal sacrifice rituals. But is that the whole story?

In reality, Vodou is a rich religious tradition with roots in Haiti. It’s a mix of West African traditions and Catholicism, a complex and storied worship of nature and various deities and spirits. Given the myths that surround Vodou, it’s easy to see why most Americans have the wrong perception of this religion. I had the chance to attend a presentation about Vodou ceremonies in Brooklyn and to talk with Brooklyn photographer Shannon Taggart about her experiences photographing Vodou.


Shannon began photographing Vodou ceremonies in and around Brooklyn, her home base, because she was struck by the similarities between the Vodou concept of  ”spiritual possession” and the American Spiritualist tradition of “trance.”  Taggart began photographing Spiritualists when she was in college and a main focus of her current work is to “draw a parallel between these practices as part of a larger piece on religious possession rituals.”


In her artist’s statement, Shannon describes her Spiritualism work as “They are meant as a meditation on mortality and the alchemy of human... more »

more »

When It Costs

by Michaela Jaselle 08.18.2009

idol worship
Outside the houses of Taiwan stand small fire pits. On first look, you’d mistake them for rubbish bins, but in fact, they are where families burn sheets of yellow paper as offerings to their idols. This ancestral and idol worship was surprising to me, and really stood out.  Some households even leave out full tables of food – fresh fruit, big platters and everything, all for the idols. Up in the hills were big, detailed, and admittedly quite beautiful temples scattered as shrines to the dead ancestors. This belief system is different from South Africa, where though there is still idol worship, there is also a strong base of Christianity. Here, people go from church to the witchdoctor, making it difficult to discern what’s more important to them, and what they actually believe.

In Taiwan, however, this is not the case. There are no blurry lines between beliefs. If you want to follow Jesus, then it is considered a great dishonor to the idols and ancestral spirits. In fact, it’s a dishonor to your whole family, something I didn’t fully understand until I was back in South Africa, chatting with my lovely Taiwanese friend here. She told me that when she... more »

more »

Christmas For Christmas's Sake!


In the U.S., political correctness has steered us toward saying “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas” because not everyone should be assumed to celebrate Christmas. In the legal arena, the Christmas debate is playing itself out with lawsuits against placing nativity scenes on government property as well as petitions to do so, resulting with Christians, atheists, Jews, Muslims, etc crying “discrimination!” What a mess.

On the other hand, in Malaysia because I am Caucasian everyone assumed I was celebrating Christmas, and in almost every shop I visited this past week, I was wished a sometimes awkward “Merry Christmas,” which seemed ironic given the turmoil of that phrase back home. I thought of the wish as an acknowledgement that I decorated my condo in red and green and was dreaming of a white Christmas. But on Dec. 23 I was at the gym making small talk with the Muslim woman on the treadmill beside me, and she asked me what I was doing for Christmas. I told her where my husband and I were thinking of going for dinner, and she said “Oh, and then church?” I was taken back. “No, we’re secular Christians” I replied, pretty sure that I’d made the... more »

more »

Fear His Wrath... or don't... maybe


Ah, the power of the media: post an idea in the ‘comment is free’ section of a national newspaper’s website and watch it grow. Or in the case of Ariane Sherine, you can also watch the public falling over each other to pledge their pennies towards your humble cause.

Sherine wanted to raise £11,000 in order put an atheist message on no less than 30 London buses for 4 weeks – the rationale being to counter all the damnation-style religious advertising that plague public transport (something, I must admit, I have been blissfully oblivious to). After enrolling the British Humanist Association, plus everyone’s favourite anti-God spokesman, Richard Dawkins (who promised to match whatever the public throws in – but only up to £5,500) Sherine has already amassed a healthy £115,820.10.

I’m not quite sure what to make of it all. Part of me thinks ‘fair enough’ and another part is left wondering, as you always do with such matters, whether all those lovely pennies (and the formidable power of the public forum) could be put to better use. Much has also been made of the phrasing of the ad, said to make its debut in January. What will it achieve? I can’t imagine a mini-ambush of... more »

more »

The Witch of Portobello: A Review by Julia Henderson


Okay, I know. I wrote my review of The History of Love and gushed about it, and now you’re all going to think that I only write gushy reviews. But here’s the thing…this book *really* made me think about who I am and where I am going, and who I want to be as a woman, a wife, a soon-to-be-mother, a daughter, and a human.

I didn’t always like Paulo Coehlo’s work. I tried to read The Alchemist in college and the novel just didn’t do it for me. But a friend recommended Veronika Decides to Die to me while a loved one was in the hospital for depression and I was struggling to understand what might be happening in there, and ever since, Coehlo has been one of my obsessions.

When I picked up The Witch of Portobello, I didn’t know quite what to expect. The synopsis said “How do we find the courage to always be true to ourselves—even if we are unsure of whom we are? That is the central question of international bestselling author Paulo Coehlo’s profound new work…”

“Oh. Profound,” said the skeptic in me. “We’ll just see about that.”

But all I know is this…the protagonist of the book, Athena, follows... more »

more »

Outrage at a Catholic College


As this is my first official post, allow myself to introduce…myself. Ok, no more lame jokes. I’m a student at Emerson College in Boston, pursuing my Masters in Publishing and Writing. Emerson is a far-cry from Holy Cross , the small liberal-arts college in Worcester where I got my Bachelor’s degree. For example, I don’t think anyone with pink hair or sleeve tatoos attended Holy Cross (at least while I was there…). That’s not where the differences end.

The Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy held its annual conference at Holy Cross, the oldest Catholic college in New England, on October 24. Though no students or faculty were involved in the Conference, the move sparked an outcry from alumni and the Catholic community. The College’s President, Michael McFarland, SJ, defended the College’s decision to rent space to the organization. In an official statement, McFarland said, “It is the College’s position that providing rented meeting space to a conference of professionals from a variety of Massachusetts organizations discussing the safety and care of at-risk teenagers does not represent a disregard of Catholic teaching.”

While Holy Cross, as a Catholic institution, is officially opposed to abortion and contraception (I was surprised to find open distribution of condoms on... more »

more »

Fatwa: When Religion Meets the Modern World


Problem 1: According to Islam, unmarried men and women cannot work together. In fact, the only males women are supposed to keep company with are their relatives.

Problem 2: Modernization in Muslim nations means men and women need to work together to advance their countries and stay competitive with the rest of the world.

The Solution (according to some representative of Egypt’s religious authorities): Women must breastfeed their male coworkers five times, thus making them relatives.

You’re thinking this must be a joke. Sadly no – I nearly dropped my coffee when I read Michael Slackman’s article on Egypt’s fatwa’s in the New York Times yesterday morning. Slackman goes on to report that while some Muslims are uncomfortable with these two fatwas, or religious edicts based on Islamic principles, many Muslims count on the fatwas to help them navigate the modern world with their religious integrity intact. People seek fatwas for everything from marriage and divorce to buying products, although no one issued a fatwa is held to it – they may seek alternate counsel or ignore it all together. Despite that, there are agencies authorized by Egypt’s government to issue fatwas, and there are a host of other sources, like internet sites and television shows. And really, those asking for fatwas... more »

more »