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Some contend that the idea of the ‘New Age’ originated as a marketing category in the 1980s, with New Age style ideas going back, of course, to the 70s and 60s.
Others note, more comprehensively, that the media also uses the term, as do many individuals and organizations. Whatever its origins, the ‘New Age’ refers to almost anything relating to contemporary spiritual discourse and practice.
New Age books, music, lectures, workshops, videos and websites deal with humanity’s development, usually with the goal of self-actualization and sometimes global transformation.
At the outset of the 20th-century, the American psychologist and philosopher William James outlined his The Varieties of Religious Experience several innovative spiritual trends remarkably similar to today’s concept of the New Age:
…for the sake of having a brief designation, I will give [it] the title of the ‘Mind-Cure movement.’ There are various sects of this ‘New Thought,’ to use another of the names by which it calls itself.¹
From the 1980s to around the new millennium religious fundamentalists, especially of the North American Christian variety, targeted the New Age as the workings of Satan. Important figures like C. G. Jung, Rudolf Steiner and Fritjof Capra were caricatured as Satanic hostiles to apparently ‘true’ fundamentalist versions of the Christian faith.
However, the emphasis of fundamentalist reactionary attacks has arguably shifted from perceived psychological and spiritual threats to scientific ones. Believers in evolution sans God are the new devils in the flesh to be countered and corrected by those single-minded Fundamentalists who believe they have a privileged interpretation of Christian scripture.
This shift is probably due to recent advances in mapping and sequencing genomes. The possibilities of this technology are staggering, and the new is always scary to those deeply entrenched and invested in longstanding cultural biases.
¹ William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Penguin, 1985 , p. 94.
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Captain Kathryn Janeway is the first woman starship Captain to regularly appear in a Star Trek TV series.
Kate Mulgrew plays the role in Star Trek: Voyager, which ran for seven seasons from 1995 to 2001. Interestingly, her faithful male sidekick, Commander Chakotay, plays a traditionally ‘feminine’ role by providing emotional support for Janeway’s traditionally ‘male’ command decisions.
The creator of the Star Trek series, Gene Roddenberry, attempted three decades earlier to counteract traditional sexism by casting a woman first officer (“No. 1″, played by Majel Barret) in the original pilot episode. Network brass demanded big changes, however, and William Shatner, Deforest Kelley and James Doughan were respectively brought in as ship’s captain, doctor and engineer. Leonard Nimoy (Spock) replaced Barret as “No. 1.” Barret was recast less prominently as Nurse Chapel, a female role deemed more socially acceptable for mid-1960′s America.
Something of a compromise was reached, however, when a female voice (Barret’s) was used for the ship’s talking computer. Barret, who was to become creator Gene Roddenberry’s real life wife, played in two Star Trek feature films. She also returned in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation as ship counselor Deanna Troy’s flamboyant mother. Also, her voice is heard again in later series’ as a female sounding computer.
The success of Katherine Janeway as Voyager’s captain suggests that the time was ripe for rethinking traditional sex-role stereotypes not only in America, but in most culturally progressive societies around the world.
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In the academic world it’s often assumed that the acquisition of different languages makes for a better, more valuable scholar. While this often may be the case, it’s not always.
For Bourdieu and other sociologists like Max Weber, social institutions – like universities – tend to legitimize themselves. Western universities, for example, are compelled to justify high tuition fees coupled with boring, run of the mill professors exhibiting mediocre analytical skills and a limited ability to think creatively.
As socially recognized and highly competitive organs of knowledge dissemination, universities strive to produce a certain quota of publications. Meanwhile, many scholars and the reading public tend to uncritically associate the knowledge of original languages with rational, coherent thought and scholarly legitimacy.
This is a book for people, not for scholars. Real scholars will read the Sanskrit; would-be scholars, or scholars from other fields, will fight their way through the translations of Geldner (German), Renou (French), Elizarenkova (Russian) and others; they will search the journals for articles on each verse, and on each word; they will pore over the dictionaries and concordances (Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, The Rig Veda, London: Penguin, 1981, p. 11).
And in footnote:
See appendix 3 for a bibliography of translations into European languages (Ibid).
While O’Flaherty lists noteworthy Asian commentators and Asian translators who render the Veda into European languages, interestingly enough, no mention is made of translations into contemporary Asian languages like Japanese, Korean or Mandarin.
She says the European translations are intended to encourage the “would-be scholar to make a better guess” than her own “educated guess on several problematic points” arrived at “by using the available scholarship” (Ibid., p. 12).
Does O’Flaherty contradict herself by elevating the ability of so-called “real scholars” while conceding that knowledge of an original language does not guarantee “correct” understanding?
If knowledge of original languages did guarantee correct understanding, the meanings of specific words and phrases in most ancient texts would not be continually debated and re-translated. By way of example, there’s no need to try to figure out what Sir Isaac Newton was trying to say with his three laws of motion, because we all get it. Ancient words and phrases, however, are continually being reinterpreted by self-proclaimed experts on the basis of new archeological findings, shifting academic approaches and societal changes.
With the exception of O’Flaherty and a handful of others, most translators go to great lengths to try to justify their particular rendering of problematic terms. They attempt to convince the reader that their ability to discern original meanings is as strong or stronger than all the other ‘specialists.’
And not only that. Many scholars push narrow-minded or far-fetched claims to make their translation of certain terms conform to their own point of view. In short, linguists and translators can disagree quite dramatically. These conflicted meanings arguably arise partly from incompetence, ignorance, ambition, and opinionated or wishful thinking.
Translation is clearly subject to human bias. Even with concerted and informed attempts to offer accurate translations, it’s doubtful that these biases may be eradicated. And even if translators could go through a time machine and be present when the ancient texts were actually written, the central obstacle to a precise and exact understanding of certain terms would persist: The translators themselves did not write the original text.
It seems safe to say that one can, in most instances, never fully understand another person’s mode of thinking and intent. To complicate things, consider contemporary English literature about which English-speaking scholars produce seemingly endless commentaries about the actual or “intended” meanings of certain English words and symbols. These intense debates occur within the very same language as that of the original texts.
Here, the student of religion may argue that religious texts differ from fiction because the former refer to fixed, unalterable truths. But this claim is complicated by the fact that the meaning of some religious terms change over time-such as angel and asura.
Moreover, the religious believer could say they have an advantage over regimented scholars because they possess higher forms of perception-that is, the alleged true meaning of a term is revealed or infused by God, even when reading that term in translation.
The scholar of religion cannot really prove or disprove such a claim. But scholars do point out that many apparently ‘revealed truths’ among believers often seem to contradict one another.
Meanwhile, several postmodern writers intentionally write texts with open-ended, ambiguous meanings. This creates, they say, a living dialogue between writer and reader instead of a dead monologue from writer to reader. The result, they seem to believe, is a ‘literary novel’ of higher value than say, ‘trashy pulp fiction.’ But arbitrary distinctions like this can become ingrained among literary circles, and are often loaded with unsavory, elitist connotations.
Another point to consider is that some believe that writers, themselves, may not be fully aware of their own intended meanings. And this is the underlying basis to a psychoanalytic approach to literature.
Clearly, scholars can and do produce insightful works without much knowledge of original languages. A good example would be John Kerr’s A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein (1993). Kerr openly admits to drawing upon the work of several translators. And perhaps this is a stronger method than merely relying on one’s own particular and possibly idiosyncratic translation of original texts.
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Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was an English physicist, mathematician and alchemist, educated at Cambridge.
In 1665 he developed a form of calculus, an achievement shared with Gottfried Leibniz.
Around 1666 he observed an apple falling in his garden. This prompted musings that lead to his Law of Universal Gravitation.
Newton’s Three Laws of Motion are still taught in just about every high school around the world.
In his studies of light he found that white light contains the entire spectrum. Newton also invented the first reflecting telescope.
Newton also had a slightly unorthodox religious side that many New Age writers are concerned to bring to light. He once said:
Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.¹
And concerning his achievements, he was unusually modest, echoing sentiments found in a popular medieval metaphor:
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.²
Today, pop science and New Age theorists often contrast Newton with Einstein. Newton is sometimes and almost disparagingly said to represent mechanistic ‘old thought’ while Einstein is lauded as the herald of ‘new thought.’ However, Newton was a rare genius whose influence has been profound. And it’s likely that someday another innovative thinker (or group) will come along to replace Einstein’s iconic role as the great genius who revolutionized our way of seeing the world.
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The New Testament is that part of the Christian Bible dealing with the birth, teachings, living examples, miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is composed of the Four Gospels, the “Acts of the Apostles,” “The Epistles” and the “Apocalypse of John.”
The dominant scholarly view is that most if not all of the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, the common language during the time of the Eastern Roman Empire. Although some say parts or, perhaps, all of the New Testament was written in Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke.
Different translations of the New Testament may rely on different scriptural sources and also the biased agendas of translators.
For instance, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), uses gender-neutral instead of originally masculine pronouns. And different translations of the Lord’s Prayer vary in length.
Meanwhile, the New International Version Bible (NIV) arguably tries to smooth out theological problems by firmly linking up the New and Old Testaments with the help of selective translating. Some see this as justified, others do not.
However, most Christians agree, in different ways and degrees, that the New Testament is a ‘fulfillment’ of the Old Testament, the latter being seen as a kind of blueprint for the arrival of Jesus Christ, the only true savior and messiah that the Jewish prophets had anticipated.
One of the most often cited passages of the Old Testament in support of this belief is (with the name Immanuel meaning “God with us”):
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).
The Jewish people, of course, did not accept this idea because they believe it is blasphemous for any human being to claim equality with God, a view they share with Muslims. And some commentators say that the Jewish people expected their Messiah to be a kind of hero figure who would liberate them from the occupying Romans.
To this Christians reply that Jesus’ message is not about driving away enemies, gaining land or basking in Earthly glory. As Jesus says in the New Testament, his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).
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- The oral stage of 0-1 years where infant gratification is achieved through sucking the primary object¹ of the mother’s breast (or substitute objects)
- The anal stage of 1-3, in which sexual gratification is achieved through the child’s control over and actual production of feces. From his or her toilet training the child first learns the reality of restrictions from the external world
- The latency period – occurring between the phallic stage and adolescence – in which the child pays less attention to the body and more to the acquisition of essential life skills
- The genital stage at which time the adolescent’s attention is oriented to developing mature, loving human relationships with others
According to Freud’s theory, so-called normal individuals proceed through these stages without major difficulties while some become fixated at a given stage. Fixation in this sense refers to an unconscious attachment to a particular object of libidinal gratification.
For instance, the alcoholic fixated at the oral phase substitutes liquor and the bottle for the mother’s nipple. Whereas those disregarding or, conversely, obsessed with cleanliness, order and regularity would be fixated at the anal stage.
In general, fixation manifests in excessive behavior such as excessive housecleaning and/or extreme emotional states such as depression, fear, anxiety and forced elation.
For Freud, normal human development pretty much ends at the genital phase. Behaviors such as celibacy, fasting and prolonged solitude may be viewed as pathological by Freudians. Other more holistic thinkers, however, see this as a reductive and potentially dangerous approach, one suggesting spiritual ignorance, immaturity and perhaps sin.
The International Institute for the Advanced Studies of Psychotherapy and Applied Mental Health sums up Freud’s theory as follows:
Although Freud’s theory of psychosexual development was extremely influential and continues to be taught in professional psychology programs today, empirical research has failed to generate significant support for these ideas and it is generally not an accepted model among practicing psychologists. Additionally, this theory has drawn criticism for being constructed on sexist ideas. Regardless, terminology associated with the stages of psychosexual development has found wide popular usage in a variety of registers and fields of activity.²
¹ Freud’s usage of ‘object’ includes other people.
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