Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Greetings from the Windy City

Okay, so it has taken me awhile to actually post anything, but since I have now been told by my midwife to stay home from school until my little boy is born, I find I have some extra time to kill, so I thought I would introduce myself and maybe jump in on some discussions.

I have been married for 4 1/2 years to my best friend and the most wonderful man in the world, and I am currently 5 days overdue with my first child, a little boy who insists upon trying to bruise my ribs about every twenty minutes or so. Makes me wonder what he'll be like when he's actually here! Of course, I have never felt more blessed or excited for the future.

The rest of my life consists of attending the University of Chicago where I am pursuing a PhD in Assyriology (the study of Akkadian, the first written Semitic language). I am currently smack dab in the middle of my first year of courses (to many it seems crazy that I am having a baby in my first year of my PhD studies, but I figured if I waited too long, I might not be able to have as many children as I'd like and that would be a much greater regret in the long run than starting early and dealing with the challenges as they come - to everything there is a season).

That's pretty much my current life in a nutshell.

I met Alexandra last year in a one year Master's program in the Humanities here in Chicago, hence my affiliation with this blog, which I am extremely excited about, I must say. I am looking forward to getting to know all of you better!

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Introduction to Me

Hello, readers. My name is Tania. Forgive my blog name; I have a personal blog and I use a pseudonym there, so when I post, it will be as "Jeje" which is my mission nickname. I thought I would take a moment to introduce myself to all of you before I jump into your discussions. I am a good friend of Allison's from college and am currently a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School working on a Masters in Theological Studies. I'll graduate in June and am currently trying to decide what I want to do with the rest of my life (more school, a real job, etc). Anyway, those are the basics. I'm sure you'll learn more about me as I contribute to conversations.

I do want to throw a discussion topic into the mix, which fits in with the previous post. This weekend I attended a conference at Yale which was for LDS graduate students studying religion. There were probably 50 people there discussing the issues of the field that are unique to LDS students, as well as some of the research that individuals are working on. At one point, the group ended up discussing, in a round-about way, how to react when things you study do not necessarily fit into the doctrine of the Church, or the assumed doctrine of the Church. For example: scholars generally agree that the Book of Isaiah was not all written by Isaiah, but they identify some later chapters written by someone else that they call "Deutero-Isaiah" and they give D-I later dates than Isaiah. Some of these D-I chapters are quoted in the Book of Mormon and there is some question as to whether or not it would have been possible for Lehi to have had access to these writings based on the dates. One scholar at the conference was discussing various theories he has to explain their inclusion in the Book of Mormon. It got me thinking. I realized that I have no problem seeking truth through research and study, and no problem when I can' t always reconcile, logically, the things that I believe. There are many ways of knowing things, all of which are given to us by God. I know the Church is true and that my loyalty is to the Church and the brethren who understand best what we need as a worldwide Church at this period in time. That being said, I am not afraid to ask questions or to have more questions arise in my mind. I know that I can spend an eternity finding answers, and that at some point it will all reconcile. Until then, it is fun to explore so long as I remember where my loyalty ultimately lies and that God is the source of ALL truth.

I look forward to getting to know all of you.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Intellectual Honesty; Religion and Profession

I read this NYT article today: "Believing Scripture but Playing by Science's Rules" and had a surprisingly strong reaction to both the article and the readers' responses. Quick summary (though I recommend reading the article), a man who takes a literalist reading of the Bible's Creation account (which for him includes a belief that the earth is no more than 10,000 years old) submitted a PhD thesis in paleontology working within the "conventional scientific framework" - i.e. according to evidence that the earth is at least tens of millions of years old. In response, the NYT asks this question: "Can a scientist produce intellectually honest work that contradicts deeply held religious beliefs?"

Ok, so, I think formulating the question this way is a little melodramatic because it so quickly concludes that variance in ideas suggests intellectual dishonesty. I think it is more to the point to examine the premises the question itself is built on: the dichotomy between religious and scientific truth. I realize I just threw us back three hundred years to a time when religion could still make truth claims, but I think that we can work through questions about the relationship between science and religion, philosophy and religion, etc only once we've rehabilitated religion as a possible source of truth. Ok, so all of us posting to this blog accept that religion can indeed make truth claims. By accepting that religion can claim something to be true, then it would be rational to assume that someone wouldn't operate according to religious principles if they didn't believe they were true. Similarly, it would be rational to assume that someone wouldn't operate according to scientific principlies if they didn't believe they were true. Enter two medieval philosophers trying to reconcile Platonism and Aristotelianism with Islam and Judaism, and you hear Ibn Rushd and Maimonides arguing that truth can't contradict truth and we see that somehow, religious truth and scientific truth are actually part of a greater whole. And this - this "somehow" - is where the NYT question fails, because it doesn't allow for the process that enables a response exploring how different truths could possibly be related. Of course, this response has to be done according to correct methodological principles rather than reading into science a religious belief - clearly. But to say we have to suspend our beliefs because they seem to flatly contradict what we study is reductive and irresponsible and unrealistic, no one would be able to contribute to scholarship until they had woven how everything fits together! Like, only God could publish anything. Or Kant, right before he died.

Now, pointing this toward trends within our church, people often speak of a bifurcation between spiritual and secular knowledge. That's rubbish. If something is true, it is true regardless of the source - whether it be the study of physics, philosophy, literature, music, scripture, endocrinology, whatever.

Lol, I know these issues have a million points of contention, I do realize I've argued according to lots of premises I haven't defended, but I figure this is a good starting point.

So, tangibles: What do you think of the NYT question? What are points of seeming contradiction between your religious beliefs and your academic/professional training? How do you traverse this tension?

(ps - it would be great if we don't get into a discussion of evolution)