... in religion

An unlikely group of social innovators: The Amish

16 Mar 2013 | 433 words | business copyright economy religion

Planet Money has a gem of a story on ‘the Business Secrets Of The Amish‘. The story zooms in on how the Amish, who have made their living through small plot farming for centuries, have adapted to an environment that does not allow for this lifestyle anymore:

What you see in this hall is the transformation of Amish culture. Up until certainly the 1970s the vast vast majority of amish men were farmers. They lived at home, typical plot size would have been about a 130 acres, which is enough for a family, you know a dad and a few boys to farm using horse-powered machinery. But they lived in places like Lancaster county and Holmes county, Ohio where land prices have gotten bigger and bigger, the Amish have doubled in the last 40 years because the have so many children and what has happend is more and more kids can’t afford to buy farms and the fathers can only divide the farms so many ways. If you have 7 boys your 130 acres pretty quickly becomes too small to even be worth farming and then what happens to their boys? So for the first time ever a majority of Amish men in America are not farming, they are finding other ways to make a living.

So right trough the 1960s into the 1970s all of these guys’ fathers or grandfathers would have been farmers and there might have been in any community one or two guys who farmed but also did a little carpentry on the side or a little blacksmithing on the side. But now you have tens of thousands of amish businesses, tens of thousands of people who have industry, this convention center here in a few months this is going to be the Amish furniture show and it is not for the general public, it is not ‘oh lets go down to Amish country and get a nice dressoir’, this is serious business: Walmart, Sears, JC Penny come here to buy, to place orders with huge amish factories, this is serious business. […]

The flexibility that the amish have shown in adapting to this new social reality is quite remarkable (especially if you compare this to the way the entertainment and publishing industry react to the change in economic fundamentals in their business environments). Who would have thought that a 320 year old religion that is known for it’s adherence to a strict set of behavioural rules (referred to with the delightful Germanism ‘Die Ordnung’) would turn to what is currently hyped as ‘Social Innovation’ to ensure their survival?

Santa muerte / Swine flu

06 May 2009 | 85 words | fashion religion popular culture mexico pandemic

The always entertaining big picture has an edition with pictures from the non-event of the century: ‘the 2009 swine flue outbreak‘. i particularly like this picture depicting ‘a woman, wearing a face mask as a precaution against swine flu who holds a skeletal figure representing the folk saint Santa Muerte during a ceremony in Mexico City:

Bonus: check out this picture with a woman wearing a face-mask & a megadeath t-shirt at the same time. i would doubt that she is aware of the irony…

'Terrorist' watch list... (weekend reading list)

18 Oct 2008 | 221 words | war religion islamofobia terrorism afghanistan

So the Atlantic has another well written article (‘The Things He Carried‘ by Jeffrey Goldberg) that shows the absurdity of the security theater that we endure at the airports (note that the situation in europe is a bit different, as they do check your boarding pass against ID at the boarding gate), which among other things illustrates that no-fly lists are a rather dumb instrument if you want to catch Terrorists.

So if the ‘terrorists’ are not on the no-fly watch list, where are they then? Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that they are in Afghanistan hanging out with the Taliban. Nir Rosen (who apparently has in inclination for hanging out in and reporting from dangerous places) has hung out with them as well and documented his trip into the Taliban controlled province of Ghazni for the Rolling Stone (‘How we lost the war we won‘). Along his trip he also managed to take some beautiful photos:

Taliban fighters in the Andar district , photo Nir Rosen/Roling Stone

Now of course the Taliban do not really qualify as ‘terrorists’ either but that does not deter both US presidential candidates from making plans for sending more troops to Afghanistan [and possibly Pakistan]. If you want to understand why this is a rather dumb idea, Rosen’s article is a good place to start…

Salat | ‏صلاة‎

I spend last weekend at ars electronica speaking at the symposium on a new cultural economy curated by Joi and hanging out with an amazing bunch of people. Did not see much of the exhibitions, but at least managed to see the cyber arts 08 exhibition in the OK center and found another nice CFL for my collection. Most of the works were rather underwhelming. One of these exceptions was ‘Salat‘ by Johannes Gees which was documented at the OK center. Salat (the arabic/quranic term for prayer) consisted of a series of interventions that Gees did in the summer of 2007 in Swiss Cities. He constructed so-alled sound bombs that consisted of adapted megaphones combined with a time controlled the mp3 player that – once activated – would play the pre-recorded call to prayer of the muezzin of the grand mosque in mecca at prayer time.

Gees secretly placed these sound bombs on church towers in Basel, Zürich and Sankt Gallen and documented the reactions by passers by on video. While the work itself is certainly not the most original (apparently similar things have been done before), Gees had the luck of being sued by an overzealous Swiss christian who claimed that he had insulted objects of religious worship (which is a criminal offense in Switzerland) and as a result the police impounded one of the sound bombs and opened a case on him. After a while the public prosecutor came to the conclusion that there was no criminal wrongdoing involved. Now this being a proper legal case the public prosecutor had to write down the reasoning in the document that declared the case closed. At ars electronica Gees had displayed copies of the official documents from the public prosecutor alongside video stills and one of the sound bombs (see picture above). The interesting aspect of the installation is the way the public prosecutor attempts to get a grip on this artistic intervention in legalese. I cant find the text of the documents online but here is a short snippet (in german) that i could reconstruct from one of the pictures i took:

Im vorliegenden fall käme allenfalls die Tathandlung in Form von Verspotten in Betracht . Die Verspottung selbst gilt nach herrschender lehre als Unterfall de Missachtung und beschreibt Äusserungen, durch welche die angegriffenen religiösen Überzeugungen als lächerlich dargestellt werden (Stratenwerth, Schweizerisches Strafrecht BT II Straftaten gegen Gemeininteressen , Bern 2000 §39 N 5). Indem der Angeschuldigte den Ruf des Muezzins erschallen liess, ist eine Verspottung der religiosen Überzeugung des Geschädigten Richard Scholl, welcher gemäss Anzeige an das Stadtrichteramt Zürich vom 13. Juli 2007 der evangelisch reformierten Kirche angehört, nicht ersichtlich. Mithin wird durch das Verhalten des Angeschuldigten die glaubensbezogene Überzeugung des Geschädigten als Christ nicht in unsachlicher weise herabgesetzt oder lächerlich gemacht. Das heisst der Gottesglaube des Geschädigten wird nicht tangiert. Es gilt festzuhalten dass vielmehr sich Angehörige der islamischen Religion, mithin gläubige Muslime, durch die Aktion des Angeschuldigten in ihrer Ãœberzeugung in Glaubenssachen – Achtung vor dem Mitmenschen und seiner Überzeugung in religiösen dingen – hätten verletzt fühlen müssen, zumal der ruf des Muezzins in der hiesigen Geselschaft bis dato nicht zum Alltags- bzw. Ausleben der islamischen Religion gehört. […] Dennoch vermag der Ruf des Muezzins das Durchschnittsempfinden eines vernünftigen Durchschnittsbürgers (sic!) nicht in schwerer Weise verletzen. Ebenso wird durch den Gebetsruf nicht die christliche Überzeugung der Geschädigten tangiert, da der gläubige Mensch in seinem Innersten und seiner religiösen Entscheidung nicht beeinflusst wird.

In the end the case against Gees was dropped but he was ordered to pay CHF 900 in legal costs because he ‘could have asked for permission’ before placing the sound bombs. As if someone would have given him that permission…

Santa Muerte == San la Muerte

19 Aug 2008 | 131 words | religion dead people migration popular culture

Reading trough my dead migrants rss feeds i ran into a new blog post about san la muerte today. this time it is a short blog post about the Santa Muerte cult that is thriving in Mexico and among Mexican migrants (this is why the blog post got caught in my ‘dead migrants’ filter) in the US. From what i can tell it does look like the Mexican version of this cult is much less intresting (but more ceremonial) than the variant existing in Argentina and Paraguay that i wrote about back in 2006. Time magazine also has a photo essay with 15 Santa Muerte pictures from Mexico:

the blog post in question somewhat unconvincingly links the cult to a number of themes prevailent in chinese folk culture and japanese manga.

find happiness and protect your self the world is cruel today

31 Dec 2007 | 27 words | art religion

Promotional card for MR. GALILA from my growing collection of such cards

Thanks for the card to nat & happy 2008 to all of you out there!

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk > Grand Ayatollah Sayid Ruhullah Musawi Khomeini

25 Nov 2007 | 215 words | airtravel turkey iran religion modernity

At least when one is to believe the flight schedules of Turkish airlines and Iran Air. Since november 2007 both airlines have a daily service connecting Istanbul’s Atatürk International Airport with the new Imam Khomeini International Airport just south of Tehran (actually it is quite a bit south of the city but very close to the shrine of the the late Grand Ayatollah).

Is it just me or isn’t it at least a tiny little bit ironic that there are direct flight’s between two airports that are named after the founder of the secular Turkish republic (the first and as far as i know only secular muslim majority country) and the leader of the Islamic Revolution that lead to the establishment of Islamic Republic of Iran. There are hardly two men who’s politics could be more opposed to each other (at least when it comes to the relationship between state and religion in the 20th Century). It appears that globalization and the associated travel patterns of the 21st century conveniently ignore such matters and integrate them in their highly codified languages:

… we are approaching Imam Khomeini International Airport, please bring your seatback in the upright position, fold away your tray-table, switch off all electronic devices, put on your headscarf and finish your last drink.

Sharia compliant cash machine

20 Aug 2006 | 6 words | technology islam religion london

On Whitchapel road in East London:

On new media [back in Buxelles again]

26 May 2006 | 245 words | africa europe religion media brussels

[no external keyboard so spelling is fucked up again] Am in Bruxelles for okno public1. It is cold and rainy as usually so people are freezing and are coming up with clever ways to keep their seats warm:

Or is this just an very effectie and selfish way of claiming a seat while you are ordering your next drink? [anyway it is good to see that my old powerbook is doing much better than the current one].

Yesterday the festival was much strange as the same building was also the host to a endless ascension service of 350 or-so enthusiastic African christians [apparently organized by an organization called ministry of spiritual combat]. For hours these poor souls listened to various men in shiny suits telling them all the inn’s and out’s about dirty thoughts, true belief and the virtues o self restraint. astonishingly these rather annoying messages caused great excitement among the audience which in turn expressed itself by loud chanting, wild dancing and blowing of fog horns. At some point shaina decided to investigate a bit more into the reasons foe their excitement and was told that the whole purpose of this ‘combat spiritual’ was to cleanse themselves of their sins much ‘like the hindus do when they take ritual baths in the ganges’.

At this point namita observed that the cleansed-out sins were probably ascending though the ceiling into and somehow transformed themselves into new media on the fourth floor of the building…

What is that strange black box to the right?

05 Mar 2006 | 361 words | europe migration art voyantes religion

… and why does the url of this site begin with www.voyantes.net?

[Answer:] long before i had this blog i started collecting little paper flyers from people calling themselves ‘voyantes’ that where thrown through the letterbox of my apartment in Amsterdam [later i also started to find them on public transport in Paris and Strasbourg]. On these cards individuals, who claim to have special healing powers and the ability to look into the future, offer their services. most of them also claim to be mediums and it is quite common that they claim to have inherited this powers form powerful ancestors. It seems that the people who offer their services on these cards are part of the social fabric of sub-saharan migrant communities in these cities.

I do not know why i got fascinated by these cards and started collecting them. it probably is the mixture of (in my eyes) absurd religious beliefs and the almost taxonometric lists of ailments these people claim to be able to relieve. another aspect is the strange mixture between blunt and poetic language:

Spécialiste du retour rapide et définitif de l’être aimé. Si vous voulez vous faire aimer, ou si votre ami(e) vous a quitté(e) il ou elle va courrir derrière vous comme un chien derrière son maître.

[note: this is the only card among 50 or so that tries to imply gender neutrality. on all the others the lost partner that will be summond back to ‘run behind you like a dog behind his master’ is generally assumed to be female]

When my collection grew to more than 50 cards i decided to make them accessible on-line, by building a little app that enables you to chose three problems you would like to have solved. based on the choice of problems, the app will present you with the card(s) that claim to offer treatment for the chosen combination of problems. At the moment i have 71 cards online. If anyone out there ever comes across one of these these cards i would really appreciate it if you could send me a scan (on a black background) so i can add it to my database…

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: