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Published Research

Agnomancy: Conjuring Ignorance, Sustaining Belief

Jack David Eller

Recent years have seen an increased interest in the construction and exploitation of ignorance, with the establishment of a field of agnotology (ignorance studies). This effort has focused almost exclusively on governments and corporations, though little or none on religion. After exploring work in agnotology and introducing the concept of agnomancy (the creation or conjuring of ignorance), the present article offers a preliminary application of these perspectives to religion, investigating what light agnotology sheds on religion and when and for what reasons religion engages in agnomancy.

Imagined as us-American: Patriotic Music, Religion, and Violence Post-9/11

David Kwon

With the common correlation of the patriotic music community to “America,” country music after 9/11, in many respects, could be seen as a site for the reinforcement and construction of American national identity. This article particularly explores the use of country music in the United States to represent and create a political ideology of “imagined” national identity in the time period between September 11, 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in the Spring of 2003. However, the nation, as imagined in these country song lyrics, has very specific dimensions. It is not just any nation. It is perceived (and valued, for that matter) as justifiably aggressive. It is a Christian nation defined in opposition to the Islamic “other.” This targeted racial and religious group is not just an outside foreign “other” but a heavily stigmatized foreigner from within their own country. The mapping of these particular concepts of nation and religion onto mainstream country music constitutes its primary imagined identity.

The Implausibility and Low Explanatory Power of the Resurrection Hypothesis—With a Rejoinder to Stephen T. Davis

Robert Greg Cavin
Carlos A. Colombetti

This article responds to Stephen T. Davis’ criticism of an earlier essay, “Assessing the Resurrection Hypothesis.” The authors argue that the Standard Model of physics is relevant and decisive in establishing the implausibility and low explanatory power of the Resurrection hypothesis. They also argue that the laws of physics have entailments regarding God and the supernatural and, against Alvin Plantinga, that these same laws lack the proviso “no agent supernaturally interferes.” Finally, the authors offer Bayesian arguments for the Legend hypothesis and against the Resurrection hypothesis.

Essays Introducing a Jewish Perspective on the Gospel of John

Charles David Isbell

This article’s aim is to highlight the impact that plain sense readings of the Gospel of John have on educated Jewish and Christian lay persons but who typically do not aspire to learn or appropriate current scholarly theories seeking to explain sacred texts in a technical and often inordinately complex fashion. Essay topics include: 1) the anonymous author (“John”), the relationship of his gospel to the Synoptic Gospels, his interpretation of Jewish actions and customs, and his influence on a distinct group of early Christians, the “Johannine” community; 2) John’s portrayal of Jesus’ self-identification in using the divine name YHWH; 3) John’s description and interpretation of various Jewish responses to Jesus, as well as the author’s understanding of the reasons for Jews rejecting the message and person of Jesus; and 4) John’s portrayal of the early break between Judaism and Christianity, laid entirely at the feet of “the Jews.”

Religious Involvement and Bridging Social Ties: The Role of Congregational Participation

Stephen M. Merino

Research indicates that religious communities are important sites for the development of social resources, including social capital. Several studies suggest that religious involvement beyond worship services is a meaningful predictor of civic engagement that may foster bridging social capital, or ties that bridge social groups and cross lines of status and identity. This article explores the relationship between religious involvement and bridging social ties. Using nationally representative survey data and a subsample of individuals who are affiliated with one particular congregation, the article examines how religious service attendance and congregational participation (beyond services) are associated with frequency of interaction with someone from one of nine different social groups that vary along dimensions of social status and identity. Congregational participation beyond services positively predicts contact with several of the groups. In contrast, service attendance is either negatively related or not at all significantly related to interaction with someone from each of these nine different social groups.

Patristic Exegesis: The Myth of the Alexandrian-Antiochene Schools of Interpretation

Darren M. Slade

The notion that there existed a distinction between so-called “Alexandrian” and “Antiochene” exegesis in the ancient church has become a common assumption among theologians. The typical belief is that Alexandria promoted an allegorical reading of Scripture, whereas Antioch endorsed a literal approach. However, church historians have long since recognized that this distinction is neither wholly accurate nor helpful to understanding ancient Christian hermeneutics. Indeed, neither school of interpretation sanctioned the practice of just one exegetical method. Rather, both Alexandrian and Antiochene theologians were expedient hermeneuts, meaning they utilized whichever exegetical practice (allegory, typology, literal, historical) that would supply them with their desired theology or interpretive conclusion. The difference between Alexandria and Antioch was not exegetical; it was theological. In other words, it was their respective theological paradigms that dictated their exegetical practices, allowing them to utilize whichever hermeneutical method was most expedient for their theological purposes. Ultimately, neither Alexandrian nor Antiochene exegetes possessed a greater respect for the biblical text over the other, nor did they adhere to modern-day historical-grammatical hermeneutics as theologians would like to believe.

The Relevance (and Irrelevance) of Questions of Personhood (and Mindedness) to the Abortion Debate

David Kyle Johnson

Disagreements about abortion are often assumed to reduce to disagreements about fetal personhood (and mindedness). If one believes a fetus is a person (or has a mind), then they are “pro-life.” If one believes a fetus is not a person (or is not minded), they are “pro-choice.” The issue, however, is much more complicated. Not only is it not dichotomous—most everyone believes that abortion is permissible in some circumstances (e.g. to save the mother’s life) and not others (e.g. at nine months of a planned pregnancy)—but scholars on both sides of the issue (e.g. Don Marquis and Judith Thomson) have convincingly argued that fetal personhood (and mindedness) are irrelevant to the debate. To determine the extent to which they are right, this article will define “personhood,” its relationship to mindedness, and explore what science has revealed about the mind before exploring the relevance of both to questions of abortion’s morality and legality. In general, this article does not endorse a particular answer to these questions, but the article should enhance the reader’s ability to develop their own answers in a much more informed way.

Is Metaphysics a Science?

Thomas J. Burke

Once esteemed as the highest form of knowledge, the legitimacy of metaphysics as a rational discipline has been severely challenged since the rise of modern science, particularly since it seemed that while the latter reached overall consensus, the disputes in the former seemed interminable. The question naturally arises whether metaphysics could ever achieve the status of a science. The following article presents the view that metaphysics is not nor could ever become a science in the sense of the modern “hard” sciences today because a) it seeks a different sort of knowledge, which b) cannot be acquired by the methods of modern science; and c) metaphysics serves a different cognitive purpose than the sort of knowledge that science can provide. It is, nevertheless, a rational subject, one in fact that supplies the necessary rational foundation for the positive sciences.

First Century Christian Diversity: Historical Evidence of a Social Phenomenon

John F. Lingelbach

In light of Ken Howard’s recent “religion singularity” phenomenon, this article attempts to ascertain the nature of Christian diversity during the last seventy years of the first century (roughly 30 to 100 CE). It offers an examination of the two largest Christian movements that existed before the second century, as well as when those movements may have begun and the locations they most likely flourished. The article argues that the earliest Christian tradition was the one persecuted by the Apostle Paul and that later, two breakaway movements splintered off from this tradition: the Pauline and Ebionite movements. The paper concludes that during the first century, of these two splinter movements, the Pauline movement likely preceded that of the Ebionite movement, though they both flourished in many of the same locations. Of interest is the finding that all three Christian movements (the pre-Pauline tradition, Pauline, and Ebionite) flourished in Asia Minor, a cosmopolitan sub-continent which appears to have served as a geographic information nucleus through which diverse ideas easily proliferated.

Conditions for the Great Religion Singularity

Brian D. McLaren

Applying the Buddhist “law of interdependent origination,” which states that if the conditions are right, a particular phenomenon may exist, Brian McLaren provides ten conditional factors that he believes have contributed to Ken Howard’s “religion singularity” (i.e. the multi-faceted collapse of institutional Christianity). Each condition falls under two main categories: either a lack of rapid adaptability in religious institutions or the moral failure of institutional leaders. The ten conditional factors include authoritarian centralization, betrayal of the religious founder’s non-violence, a history of unacknowledged atrocities, military imperialism, white supremacy, scandals, reaction against scientific inquiry, doubling down on dualism, integrated and change-averse institutional systems, and paralysis and nostalgia.