RELIGION GOES TO THE MOVIES: EATING BEAUTY, WELCOMING THE STRANGER

May 20, 2014

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(Apocalypse Now; 1979)

Culture Connection Executive Director Scott Young, in collaboration with Professor Lowell Gallagher from UCLA English Department, is presenting a class entitled “Religion Goes to the Movies: Eating Beauty, Welcoming the Stranger.” It is being offered as a Fiat Lux course in this Spring 2014 quarter. The class is executed in seminar style, involving viewing entire film in class with student interaction posted on Internet discussion board. “Religion Goes to the Movies” is Interdisciplinary & Interreligious in content & perspective. The films selected for screening are:

Apocalypse Now (1979)

The Visitor (2007)

Doubt (2008)

The Scent of Green Papaya (1993)

Babette’s Feast (1987)

Critical readings are required in addition to screenings. A sampling of themes to be discussed are: the gaze, hospitality, transcendence, symbol, myth, icons, moving images, the sacred manifested in the secular, and food & spirituality.

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CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF RELIGION IN THE UNIVERSITY

May 20, 2014

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The University Campus, and its educational culture, is in a protracted period of experiencing a rapidly changing landscape. This includes undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and administration. These processes are both disruptive, requiring frequent recalibrations, and exhilarating, generating new possibilities. There are several trigger mechanisms for this dynamic time of transition including the resurgence of religion in classrooms, residential life, volunteerism, student organizations, faculty research, governance challenges, and campus public squares. For much of the 20th century, religion retreated to the margins of campus life in most universities and to private and parochial expressions. The last couple of decades have witnessed religion demanding a more public profile, sharing with several other major influencers a critical role in how higher education evolves in the near term and far horizon. The implications of these changes in the campus landscape are just now coming into view. Among the many that could be itemized, let me suggest three that, in my opinion, directly address the future of the campus ministry in the university.

  1. Recent studies have documented that faculty are robustly religious and spiritual. Faculty are an indispensable resource for the Multi-Faith/Interreligious mission on college campuses. Faculty participation is a requirement for a vital future of religious experience in campus life.

  2. The entrenched secularism, that has ruled most of the public research universities, is no longer a monopoly. It is not the case that secularity is in retrenchment or disappearing – it is now learning to be more hospitable to and share power with its neighbor, religion. The common understanding has not yet caught up to the new reality.

  3. The so-called Millenials, who make up most of the current undergraduates, graduate students, and younger faculty, are radically different from previous generations. Their religious perspectives and practices are frequently not connected institutionally and are far less provincial in their attitudes about doctrine and ethics. Interreligious dialogue will need to make considerable adjustments to the new class of discussants. A whole new and expanded invitation list is required for the next iteration of Interfaith expressions and projects.

There is a vast vault of literature documenting these volatile conditions: additionally, an ever greater stockpile of anecdotal evidence exists. Two very recent books on this subject are worthy of mention. The first is The Quest for Meaning and Wholeness: Spiritual and Religious Connections in the Lives of College Faculty by Jennifer A. Lindholm (Mary Ries alerted all of us to this work via email recently). The second: No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education, by Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen.

In closing, I would like to read a selection from this second recommendation.

Dealing with Religion in a Time of Transition

Given the pluriformity of religion today, it is no wonder that colleges and university are uncertain about how to talk about it and respond to it. We are living in a time of transition. The old rhetoric of religious privatization no longer works, but new and better ways of addressing religious concerns and questions have not yet been clearly formulated. The challenges are immense. The range of religious views in the contemporary college and university world is simply stunning. Most large campuses have student populations that include conservative Protestant creationists and earth-worshipping Wiccans, spiritually inspired vegans and hijab-wearing Muslims, social-justice religious activists and right-wing religious ideologues, spiritual atheists and “believers” who are longer sure they believe in God, new converts who want to share their faith with everyone, and students who have grown up religious but know practically nothing about their own faiths. And all of that just scratches the surface. Many questions naturally emerge from this scene: What should be allowed in the classroom and what should not? What has the most potential to offend, and how can such offense be avoided? What limits should be put on discussions to keep them from getting out of control? What rules should guide student interactions? How should faculty respond to religious comments by students? Should faculty themselves ever reveal their religious or spiritual convictions?

College and university learning should be useful, but it has always sought to be more than merely pragmatic or economically self-advancing. Our hope is that big questions of meaning and purpose, important questions of social norms and values, factual questions about science and society, and existential questions about how people with different ideas, ideals, and life goals can live and work together for the benefit of everyone will be part of every undergraduate experience. Colleges and universities will engage these religion- infused questions in many ways, but choosing to ignore them or pushing them to the educational margins is patently irresponsible in an age when religion remains such a visible and influential part of public and personal life.

 

 

 

 

 

The Challenge of “Thoughtful Creativity”

August 24, 2013

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I shared the  following remarks as Executive Director to the University Religious Conference (URC at UCLA)  Board of Directors. Although expressed specifically in that context, they are posted here with the suspicion that the content of the essay might have some traction and currency with a wider audience that shares in the vision and mission of the URC:

When I am not involved in Program Planning and in developing policies and procedures to improve the office and building operations of the URC, I am paying attention to the how and why of our mandate and mission. The chore of renovating our organizational operations is a collective and collaborative enterprise involving many of you around this conference table. The adventure of probing and explaining why we are here and what we should concern ourselves with is also a group assignment. I would like to sound a siren of the critical importance of thinking together. As we all know, our society coerces us into a preferential option for doing rather than being, even in the university. I would like to propose a subversive activity labeled “thoughtful creativity” as counter-cultural move to improve the intellectual environment and community both local and global. As an association of religious and community service providers it is my strong conviction that we involve ourselves in “thoughtful creativity” as we perform our duties to provide spiritual guidance and resource the under-served.

In my role as Executive Director, I consider as one of my charges to instigate and implement dimensions that are MIA or are severely neglected. Everyone in this room is compassionate, smart, energetic, and functions as an influencer. The invitation is to find ways, over time, to intentionally think together as we act together. What does this look like you ask? Not sure! But if you accept my solicitation, we will design and customize a new habit and ritual that will revitalize and re-enchant our vocation related to the university and students.

The trigger mechanism that catapulted me in this direction is a recent engagement with the writer David Foster Wallace and his novel titled Infinite Jest, published in 1996. Many readers and critics of novels are of the opinion that this was a game-changer in the history and evolution of the novel. Several felt the novel had exhausted its possibilities. Wallace’s “thoughtful creativity” opened up all sorts of new possibilities. My mind then went racing into the world of the arts where, it seems to me, the most robust “thoughtful creativity” is being generated. Here is a random sampling of persons I experience as practitioners of “thoughtful creativity”:

David Lynch Film director T-Bone Burnett Musician,producer
Frank Gehry Architect Madonna Pop culture icon
Johnny Cash Song writer Beyoncé Soloist
Andy Warhol Visual artist Howard Finster Folk painter
Jodie Foster Performance artist Richard Blanco Poet
Pauline Kael Film Critic Versace Fashion designer
Anthony Bourdain Culinary artist Barack Obama Orator
Barbara Ehrenreich Journalist UCLA: Edward Said Public intellectual
Douglas Kellner Philosopher Robert Heinecken Photographer
Paul Shrader Writer/director Charles Burnett Writer/director
Francis Ford Coppola Writer/director

This is a highly selective and partial list; a very personal one to be sure. I identified these representatives because they significantly alter the manner in which their particular art medium and exhibition was and is being practiced and presented. What can we learn from these “thoughtful creators” or others you would prefer on your own list? Is it time for Interfaith practitioners and community service operatives to have a game-changing moment? Where are the future movers and shakers to be observed and interpreted? This kind of genius cannot be manufactured, but discovered and cultivated. I challenge us to be curators of “thoughtful creativity” as well as managers of an organization. Is this too ambitious? Probably! What do we have to lose in being courageous in elevated ambitions and ideals?

Scott D. Young

April 12, 2013

Navigating Political Craziness: Lamentations and Provocations

October 13, 2012

“The Occupy Movement is about unity. People talk, then they think, and then they act.”

–Guitarist Ry Cooder discussing his new album “Election Special

Election seasons, like the 2012 presidential race, give opportunity to reflect on one’s identity and location on the political spectrum. I experience most of life as an exercise in uncertainty, ambiguity, doubt, and fragile conviction. Certainties and absolutes are not available in this life. Yet, the environment in our society currently is full of expressions of ideological rigidity and political sureties. The few of us (minority it would appear) who have modest opinions and considered perspectives but are not inclined to hold them tightly and are forever editing and revising:  how do we describe ourselves and communicate our complicated and complex understandings in such a hostile and toxic situation? I, for example, would self-identify as a progressive who is registered as an independent voter and draws heavily from anarchist, socialist, democratic, and populist political thought. This cocktail of political influences keeps me relentlessly calibrating my positions.

From this point of view, my sensibilities require me to be exasperated at the Republican Party for its domination by right-wing ideology and propaganda. I find myself being frequently frustrated with the Democratic Party for its continual marginalizing of its more progressive members.

I think it a mandate to have a rich variety of political persuasions debating and dialoging about public policy directions and the problem – solving of economic and social issues. I wish there existed a thoughtful conservatism, a vital liberalism, as well as a robust progressivism to engage in political discussions concerning legislative action and organizational governance. The blood-sport partisanship in play, does not allow for a deliberative process inclusive of all voices. I  am not alone in asking for a verbal de-militarized zone for protecting spirited but civil conversation. We are repeating a bad habit in American political history that historian Richard Hofstadter labeled “The Paranoid Style.”

I strongly suggest that those of us who want to be direct-action advocates, but without the rhetorical bile and true-believerism, should generate political imaginations and develop moral improvisations that encourage economic, political, social, cultural, and religious freedom locally and globally. Peace, justice and equality for all.

 The United States today is not a democracy: at best, it is a plutocracy and tempted to oligarchy. It is time to retrieve our democratic dreams and aspirations. Navigating the political craziness demands confessing laments and issuing provocations. We are inescapably in difficult times stumbling to see some better times. Woody Allen once remarked that we have two choices: “One road leads to disillusionment and deep despair; the other to death and total destruction. May we have the wisdom to choose the correct path.” This election presents us such a fork in the road: maybe we should listen to our artists and poets!

“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”

Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)

“A Bridge between Landscapes” a sustained gaze

October 7, 2012

 

I recently visited One Colorado Artist Studio in Pasadena featuring Artist in Residence Gregory Michael Hernandez and his exhibition titled “A Bridge Between Landscapes.” Amidst the impressive and convincing hybrid forms, interactive environment, and beautiful images generating metaphorical flights of fancy sits a ping pong table. Why is this object so arresting and compelling? Is it installation sculpture so ordinary that it triggers queries of a profound nature? Is it simply a playful work station? Is it a respite of recreational distraction from the intensity of the surrounding images requiring viewers to pay critical attention? I wonder if it actually is an alter that summons us to a place of hospitality and generosity? Hernandez’s creations are not devotional or doctrinal in any formal ecclesiastical way. His work is theological in its sublime gesturing toward questions of ultimacy and offering visual gifts to the art lover with a sustained gaze. The ping pong table is a dynamic piece that calls and convenes in its centered placement. It simultaneously encourages return trips to the curated walls that encase it. Sacred Space in a vernacular place!

The Tree of Life – special screening with panel Saturday, January 14, 2012 UCLA

January 5, 2012

The Tree of Life: Panel & Discussion The Landmark, June 22, 2011

June 22, 2011

Urban Mystic

April 26, 2011

Last year Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP, interviewed me at the intersection of Florence and Normandie, the flash point for the civil unrest following the acquittal of Los Angeles police officers in the beating of Rodney King. The story of my annual pilgrimage to this place was published in the National Catholic Reporter: Urban Mystic at the Crossroads.

This seven-minute video, edited by Chris Gipson, is an outtake from the interview. Many thanks to Chris, Srs. Rose and Tracey, and the board of Culture Connection that made this possible as we approach the 19th anniversary of this pivotal event in the life of Los Angeles.

“Death of the Critic” – Scott D. Young to moderate panel at April 2 event

March 11, 2011

Here is a description of the panel session that I will moderate at this upcoming conference:

“Who needs critics?” What use are film critics?” asks Nick James, film critic and editor of Sight and Sound. What is the difference between reviews, commentary, and criticism? Are there any distinctions to be made? Where can you discover great writing on film? Who are the really good critics and why? Is there a connection between cultural critique and movie criticism? Is there inherent conflict between amateur and professional critics? Is it inevitable that electronic communication will hasten the demise of print culture? Why is film criticism important for cinematic art and technological delivery mechanisms? Is there any space for the Religious Critic in a world preoccupied with the extinction of the movie critic? What do Godard and Schrader possess that the mass of blogger critics do not? Who is going to write the obituary and officiate at the critics’ memorial? Questions galore and conversations aplenty on this theme of the “critic in dire straits.”

I hope you to see you at the conference.

Click HERE for the Reel Spirituality website to register.

“Death of the Critic” Reel Spirituality Event April 2

March 11, 2011



 

Click here to register


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