Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Importance Of Material Culture In The Study Of Religion.

Bishop Fulham
Bishop Fulham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The material culture aspect is vital to the study of religion.  The numerous parts of material culture within religion provide sacred sites of worship, teaching aids, visual reminders to the faithful and outward expressions of religiosity.

The outward expressions of religiosity are visible in the 5 Ks of Sikhs, the wearing of uncut hair with the kara, kanga and turban identifies members of the Panth to each other and to outsiders. In Islam many  men wear a Taqiyah, in the UK this is especially prevalent at Friday prayers, it being a commendable act for a Muslim to cover his head during prayer. Many religious orders have their own uniform, Christian Orthodox nuns wear a simple dress with a shawl covering the head, and the costume worn by priests in the western Christian church can be flamboyant and regal in appearance. All these worn parts of material culture identify the wearer to others, but they also serve as a constant reminder of who the wearer is and can serve to bind the community together. There are members of many faiths, within Sikhism for example, who reject the wearing of such a religious uniform as being vital to being a good adherent of that faith.

Perhaps the most notable expression of material culture are the buildings that religions construct for worship to take place in.  Almost every town and village in England has a church with a spire pointing to heaven, the spire often being the tallest building in the community. Many religions build large structures, but they are sometimes constructed to serve a duel purpose, the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca serves to act as a reminder of the importance and generosity (although much money was raised by compulsory public subscription) of its benefactor as well as its importance as a site of Islamic worship.

Art has been used in western Christianity, and other religions, as a teaching aid. At a time when many of the congregation were illiterate, priests could instruct by talking about the art, especially works like the 12 stations of the cross, within Christian churches. Art as an expression of faith has taken a different route across much of Islam where the concept of shirk, or idolatry, has meant that representational art is uncommon, although not unknown.  Art expressed as calligraphy - inscriptions from the Quran, and abstract art forms have become the norm across much of Islam. The shirk prohibition is not followed by all Muslims, some Egyptian Muslims record their hajj experiences as representational murals.

Many parts of material culture cross into the experiential part of religion, for many people the wearing of a turban, or of a crucifix, or the comforting feeling of a set of rosary beads is intrinsic to who the person is and how they see themselves. The building they meet to worship in, and its associated art, is both sacred space, educational site and community meeting place. Material culture impacts heavily on the other dimensions proposed by Smart, our understanding of the narrative and mythic, or practical and ritual, would be lessened if we removed the material culture aspect.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013


A pint of bitter
A pint of bitter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I didn't lose anything this week, and I think I know why.

I used up most of my ProPoints allowance each day, and then had a couple of glasses of wine.  Then perhaps if we were watching TV I'd had a whisky as well, or perhaps two, and I'm free-pouring not pub measuring.  I ended the food week with half a dozen pints of Game Fair Ale at the Yorkshire Game Fair, and a giant hotdog, some paella and then a doughnut or two.  So no real surprises in the weight loss department then.

Last week's failure to shed any flab wasn't down to lack of exercise, I had my best week this year running four times for a total of just over 25 miles, but it's no use running it off if you're going to drink it straight back on again. This week, perhaps I'd better lay off the booze a little.

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Kalamata or Kalamon Olives

English: Locator map for Kalamata municipality...
Kalamata municipality in Greek region Peloponnese(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A lot of people think that there is some difference between Kalamata olives and Kalamon olives, but in truth, they are one and the same thing. Olives grown around the city of Kalamata are called Kalamata olives, olives grown in the beautiful countryside of Messina and Sparta are named Kalamon olives.  They are exactly the same sort of olives, the name only changes due to EU naming legislation.

The city of Kalamata sits on the Nedon river overlooking the beautiful Messenian Gulf in southern Greece.  Kalamata is famous for its Byzantine churches, its 13th Century castle and of course, for giving its name to the Kalamata, or Kalamon olive.

Kalamata is home to the almost mythical Mother Olive Tree.  This huge fruit bearing olive tree is thought to be over 800 years old and has escaped being destroyed when olive groves in their thousands were destroyed by invading armies.

Further back in Greek history some of the Kalamata olive trees were called moria trees. Moria trees were held to have been grown from the original olive which the goddess Athena caused to grow up on the Acropolis in Athens.  Moria trees were so important, and the oil pressed from their olives considered so vital to Greece that individuals were not allowed to own them.  All moria trees were the property of the state.

Homer wrote about the olives being grown in Kalamata, and our Kalamon olives may well grow on trees descended from the very trees that inspired Homer.  In many olive groves today, the methods for growing and harvesting Kalamon olives have not changed much since Homer’s time.  The olives still grow slowly in the Mediterranean sun, they ripen gradually through the late Autumn until in the early winter they are ready to be shaken loose from the trees and collected by hand from the nets spread under the trees to catch them.

English: Olives on tree in italy
English: Olives on tree in italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Our premium olives and olive oil are grown as Homer would have understood, in the organic way.  These olives are large in size, with a smooth and pleasing texture and a rich flavour. Kalamon are fabulous on their served; they can be served as an appetizer before dinner, as part of a meze of simple Greek dishes, or even just as a healthy and good-tasting snack. Added to cooked dishes, Kalamon olives add flavour and colour to breads, casseroles and pasta dishes.  Healthy and versatile, and lovingly grown in the traditional manner, Kalamon olives are highly prized both in Greece and the wider world.

*This article has been to the client three times, and each time the client has rejected it so I'll dump it here and do a complete re-write.

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Historical Process Of Institutionalisation In Sikhism

Sikh (Khanda) USVA emblem 36
Sikh (Khanda) USVA emblem 36 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Beattie explains that if an original religious teaching is to survive, it must be formalised through sacred spaces, teachings, rituals and myths, and that it must have some formal structure, an institution which can carry on these teachings and pass them on to later generations.

The process of institutionalisation began with Guru Nanak, who proclaimed “there is no Hindu, no Muslim” and spoke against image worship, both things that differentiated Sikhs from their Hindu neighbours.

Within Sikhism we can see the process of institutionalisation happening with the Sikh Gurus 2-5.  Guru Amar Das instituted both formal places and times of worship, and encouraged pilgrimage to Sikh sacred sites. This latter innovation might be seen as going against some of the precepts that Guru Nanak spoke of.  It may also be seen that the organisation of Sikhs into 20 manji or preaching offices began the political process which has led to many, but by no means all, Sikhs regarding themselves not only as a religion but as a nation.

Sikh pilgrim at the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Te...
Sikh pilgrim at the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar, India. The man has just had a ritual bath. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Guru Amar Das, the third living Guru,  also encouraged Sikhs to use hymns written by the Gurus in life cycle rituals – births and funerals. Guru Amar Das also had the pool at Amritsar excavated, Guru Ram Das, his successor, founded a settlement there and Guru Arjan built a temple on the same site and installed a copy of the Adi Granth within it.  In this process of construction and consecration we see the formalising of a sacred space, the most important sacred space to contemporary Sikhi.  Those that controlled the most important sacred space would themselves be influential within the developing Sikh institutions.

Another important institution brought in by Guru Amar Das was the langar, the communal kitchen and food service in every gurdwara.  Within the langar, every Sikh or guest must abandon all caste, political or social office and sit side by side with no deference to gender or rank.  Outside the langar, these divides still exist despite the teachings of Guru Nanak which speak against gender and caste distinctions.

The group of Sikh intellectuals known as Tat Khalsa who arose after the death of Guru Gobind Singh spoke against sanatan, or inclusiveness towards Hindu tradition. The Tat Khalsa vision of Sikhism differentiated the Sikhs from Hindus and in a period of competing Sikh reform movements came to prominence, but not overall mastery of the Sikhi. The Akali political party built on the merging Sikh tradition and sense of identity to campaign for control of sacred sites and a Punjabi state within India as well as pressing for an independent Sikh nation.

The inauguration of the Khalsa, celebrated on Vaisakhi day, the ritual of amrit sanskar and the introduction of the outward, visible signs of the 5 Ks further cemented the Tat Khlasa orthodoxy.

Without a process of institutionalisation then Sikhism would not have prospered. It is the process of institutionalisation that formed a set of teachings into a religion, and in the minds of some Sikhs, into a nation. Not all Sikhs though hold to the rituals and expressions dictated by groups such as Tat Khalsa.  Many modern Sikhs, especially those in the diaspora, reject some or all of the 5 Ks but still regard themselves as true Sikhs.  The internet also has brought another challenge to orthodox Sikhism with the virtual sangat being able to influence the Panth in a far reaching manner that traditional teachers could not.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Twittering Up A Race Row

IRA propaganda poster
A Muslim terrorist group, according to @charliehiggs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Public Shaming lists Twitter users who post hate speech and racism. The link will take you to a list of people who made appalling comments the murder in Woolwich earlier this week.

One Twitterer, @charliehiggs, expressed herself by saying "Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims."   Which may seem perfectly correct if you're British, stupid, and have no idea of world history or politics.  Briefly then, Apart from Anders Breivik, IRA, ETA, ISYF, UDA, UVF, FARC, Shining Path, Adam Lanza, and the list goes deplorably on and on and on.

I presume that some of the other people listed in this Public Shaming article have either removed or hidden their accounts, or have taken down the offensive tweets after receiving a public backlash against their comments.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Very Brief Seasonal Food Year

January – broccoli, Savoy cabbage, celeriac, onions, ham, oranges

February – cod, parsnips, winter greens, purple sprouting broccoli, rhubarb

March – mussels, winter roots, onions

April – spinach, wild salmon, sea trout

May – asparagus, rocket, early runner beans, Jersey Royals, rabbit

June – broad beans, watercress, crab, leafy lettuce, strawberries

English: Broad beans growing in fields at Kilm...
English: Broad beans growing in fields at Kilmeston. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

July – cucumber, beetroot, tomatoes, venison, scallops, cherries

August – gooseberries, blackberries, plaice, monkfish, sardines, nectarine

September – apples, plums, early squashes, game birds, goose, oysters

October – pumpkin, apples, chard, chestnuts, guinea fowl

November – baking potatoes, pheasant, mussels, oysters, scallops, kale

Mussels at Trouville fish market
Mussels at Trouville fish market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

December – Brussels sprouts, chicory, turkey, parsnips, swede

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Monday, May 20, 2013


At the WeightWatchers weigh in tonight I was exactly 2 stones down.  Not bad for a fat lad.

The official WeightWatchers' line is that after 10% weight loss you will start to reap serious health benefits. I have been running regularly in addition to following the  eating plan, and I can report that yes, I do feel better for both my lessened weight and greater athletic ability.  I have done diet plans and bouts of exercise before though so the challenge will be to continue this time and keep the flab away.

Anyway, tonight I did celebrate with a large G&T and a glass of red wine. Dinner though was a low ProPoint pasta dish...

Serves 2

40g (dry weight) pasta, any sort
2 small onions, diced
2 tsp olive oil
garlic, either 4 cloves or a teaspoon of puree
chilli, a generous pinch of dried, or half a teaspoon puree
1/4 head celery, thinly sliced
8 button mushrooms, sliced
1 green pepper, diced
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp parmesan
chopped rocket

Put the oil in a saucepan, add the onion, celery, mushrooms, pepper (plus the garlic and chilli if using fresh) and fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the garlic and chilli if using dried/puree, fry over a lower heat for two minutes.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about ten minutes.  The vegetables should be cooked but al dente.  Or if you like your vegetables more thoroughly cooked then simmer for twice the time.

Cook the pasta, drain and add to the sauce.

Garnish with chopped rocket and grated parmesan. Home grown rocket in this case.

I planted a herb garden before the last bout of freezing wintery weather.  The rosemary, which I had assumed to be the hardiest looking herb, died. The softer herbs, rocket, parsley, chives and mint, have all survived.

The nice serving bowl was supplied by Becky Leach via a Jamie Oliver night.

The wine is Massivo Nero d'Avola 2009 from Laithwaites.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Institutionalisation of Religion

Patriarch Photios I of Constantinople was a ma...
Patriarch Photios I of Constantinople was a major Greek lexicographer and literary critic, and did much to preserve, and copy classical manuscripts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Historically the institutionalisation of religion has been an attempt by a group that were central or influential to exert control and try to enforce the elements of right-practice or right-belief that they deemed most important.  If a set of teachings and behaviour is successfully institutionalised, as Beattie describes (2006, p.73) by being formalised into a uniform expression through teaching, worship, ritual and myth and by means of physical institutions, places of worship and organised priesthoods who pass on the agreed teaching to the next generation, then an existing pattern of religious insight  continues as an organised religion. Often though, by providing a defining line for one particular institution, other branches were not brought into line.  Instead they were empowered by being able to define themselves in the light of institutionalisation and to draw boundary lines in practice and belief of their own.  The separation of the Monophysite and Nestorian churches from the Byzantine church after the filioque controversy may be seen in this way.

Beattie, H., (2006) Sikhism Study Guide, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

*I'm rather over my word count for this month's essay, so have a quick cut-and-paste while I rejig my conclusion.
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Friday, May 10, 2013

I Hate Travis

Cover of "Why Does It Always Rain on Me"
Because you're shit.
Let's be blunt.  Travis are/were a bunch of whiny little shits. I particularly hate the song "Why Does It Always Rain On Me" which seems to embody everything that is weak and poor about the indie rock genre.  It is sung in a downbeat, whining, pathetic vocal style.  It features blokes playing guitars with a minimum of effort, ooh, let's just strum a bit that sounds nice. Well no it bloody doesn't, it sounds like you never got beyond grade 2 in guitar lessons at primary school.

And then there's the lyrics...

"Why does it always rain on me,
is it because I lied when I was seventeen."

Grow some balls man, get a spine.  Of all the things in the world you could have chosen to write about, you chose drizzle. What the hell is wrong with you ?  This is music for middle class students without a girlfriend who have skived off their afternoon lecture to sit in the rain-streaked window of the local greasy spoon feeling sorry for themselves..  And you haven't got a girlfriend because all the cool guys were listening to Rage Against The Machines' Battle of Los Angeles. 

This is the sort of semi-rock pap that Absolute Radio clog up their airwaves with.  Harmless, inoffensive, innocuous, easy-listening bullshit.  Music that's played because hardly anyone in the listening masses will be affronted or upset by it.  Well I am upset, and not only because Absolute play the same tired old half-rock crap over and over again. I'm upset that anyone could write drivel like this, I'm upset that people bought it when there were a hundred other, better, albums they could have spent their money on.  It upsets me that people will settle for third or fourth best, that they won't step outside their aural comfort zones to actively search for something more stimulating.  And Travis, they're stimulating like Ovaltine.

Do you know why AC/DC are still playing headlining stadium tours and Travis don't ? It's because AC/DC do songs about drinking and sex and living life at a hundred and ten miles an hour.  If ever once Brian Johnson had said "I wan't to do a song about condensation" then Angus Young would have bludgeoned him to death and exhumed the corpse of Bon Scott, wired it to the mains and let it be the frontman for the next tour.

This is mentioned on Wikipedia - "When Travis started to perform this song at the 1999 Glastonbury Festival, after being sunny for several hours, it began to rain exactly when the first line was sung." This is because even God hates Travis, and he wants them to stop singing.

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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Still Losing

At WeightWatchers this week I achieved my 10% mark.  That is, I have lost 10% of my body weight as measured at the first meeting I attended, 1 stone and 9lbs down.  Friend John is doing even better.

While I have been at home most days I have eaten a lot of soup.  Vegetable soup can be made to 0 ProPoints if you're feeling really keen, just boil up some zero pointed vegetables, season and blend.  Here though is very low point soup recipe with a bit of a kick.

Hot And Sour Soup

4 cups strong beef stock - I use Knorr stock cubes
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/8 cup rice vinegar
1/8 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons hot chilli sauce (but make at as hoot or cool as you wish)
2 carrots - cut to julienne / matchsticks
1/2 cup shredded black ear mushrooms
1/2 cup preserved vegetable
2 teaspoons
cornflour dissolved in a little water
1 egg, beaten

Method - put everything except the cornflour and egg in a pan, bring to the boil, simmer for a couple of minutes.

Add the cornflour to thicken the soup to a light coating consistency.

While stirring the soup, drizzle in the beaten egg, it will cook instantly into egg threads.

If you find the soup too sour then add a little sugar or artificial sweetener.  The soup will be better for the preserved vegetable (which you can get in chilled packets or tins from a Chinese or Asian supermarket), but will work fine without it, same for the black ear mushrooms.

It is a simple base recipe, you can play around with it by adding fresh chopped coriander leaves, parsley or spring onions

Monday, May 06, 2013

Walking Yorkshire - Leeds Liverpool Canal Towpath

I caught the train yesterday into Leeds and then had a brisk walk back home.  In the sunshine as well!  The towpath is quite an attractive hiking option, it is almost entirely flat so you can rattle along at a good pace.  It is also rather pretty, even right in the heart of the city there isn't much left of bleak, industrial Leeds.  Instead there is a lot of greenery to frame the newer buildings that are part of the physical regeneration of the city.

When I was a young man, the canal basin was run down and grim looking.  Now it is surrounded by hotels, nice restaurants and bars and new build apartments, it is a marked improvement.  I resisted the temptation to call in at Fazenda for lunch, there'd be no hiking if I pigged out on Brazilian grilled meat.

There is plenty of wildlife to see along the canal.  Here an urban swan has built her nest by the side of a factory building, adding in various items of litter along with natural building materials.

Three miles from the city centre is Kirkstall, with a view of the abbey ruins.  The busy Kirkstall road and it's crowded lanes of bonnet to bumper traffic seems miles away though, the tow path is beautiful and serene.  That said, there are a lot of people making use of the path today.  You can tell you're getting within a few hundred yards of a road crossing by the increasing numbers of pram pushers and families with giddy toddlers.  On the longer stretches between easy road access points the path is quieter, a few hikers, quite a few cyclists and some runners pounding out the miles.

The quintessential canal scene, a prettily painted narrow boat.

Six miles on and another temptation waits for the walker, the Rodley Barge has a good reputation for proper ales, and they had a rock band playing out in the sun.  With another 9 miles or so to go, I thought that if I called in for just one pint, it might easily become two, and then I'd really struggle to get going again. So I kept going.

Early starters, these geese have a brood of half a dozen or so goslings already.

These are the 'hardest' climbs on the tow path, a gentle rise at the side of Apperley Bridge locks.  Nine miles done on a pleasantly warm and sunny day.  I'm not much for stopping when I'm walking on my own, I'd much rather just plod on and watch the miles roll past.  

I left the canal just after bridge 212, where the River Aire swings back to the canal side.  There is an incredibly narrow footbridge across the river, a tight squeeze for portly chaps, then a bit of a wander around Esholt Sewage Works.  Now somewhere here I missed my way and added a little distance on to the hike.  I either didn't see or ignored an entrance to the woods and instead half a mile further on I ended up in a fenced off area and had to re-trace my steps. Bugger. In the woods at Esholt I had another slightly displeasing incident.

Whatever reaction the biker in Esholt woods was hoping for when he rudely yelled at me "Bike coming through!" it certainly wasn't for the exhausted, sweaty, beardy hiker to stand across the trail and yell "NONE SHALL PASS!" in return. He got off and wheeled his bike past me, remounted, and from a safe distance, called me a weirdo.  Every other cyclist that had passed me all day, and there were dozens and dozens, were all really polite, but it just takes one...

A hairy moment at Hollins Hill, this herd of young cattle were too inquisitive for my liking.  They came galloping across the field to the point where I was trying to cross from one stile to another.  Thankfully they all stopped six feet short of me and I wasn't crushed under tonnes of mobile steak.

14.5 miles in 4 hours flat, that's pretty decent pace for me.

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Friday, May 03, 2013

What Do Councils Ever Do For Us ?

The coat of arms of Bradford City Council
The coat of arms of Bradford City Council (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Yesterday morning I went to the Bradford Metropolitan District Council site to report a pothole in the road at the end of our drive.  I don't know what level of service I was expecting from the Council, but this morning a work crew has arrived and have filled in the hole.

Top work Bradford Council !  I have sent a letter of thanks via their online compliments/complaints system.
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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Readers Read Books...

Library! (Photo credit: Travelin' Librarian)
"Nurses raise infants; librarians raise library patrons. Readers read books; librarians read readers." - William Frederick Poole (1821-1894)
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The Excessive Consumption of Novels

English: William Frederick Poole, a librarian ...
English: William Frederick Poole, a librarian of the Athenaeum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"I have never met a person of much literary culture who would not confess that at some period in his life, usually in his youth, he had read novels excessively...My observation...has confirmed me in the belief that there is mental development of every person who later attains to literary culture a limited period when he craves novel-reading; and perhaps reads novels to excess; but from which, if the desire be gratified, he passes safely out into the broader fields of study, and this craving never returns to him in its original form." - William Frederick Poole quoted in Battles, M., (2003) Library: An Unquiet History, London, William Heinneman.
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Rabbits - The New House Episode #7

We have neighbours, and they are mostly birds, sheep, moles and rabbits.  And something that comes silently in the night to kill.  Last week I was mildly perturbed to find a fluffy grey object in the middle of the garden path - the dismembered head of a juvenile rabbit.  Upon further investigation I found one ear and two front feet in the rose bed, and the discarded back legs among the daffodils.  Hungry death had come for the young rabbits in the night.

Dozens of rabbits dwell in the hedgerows bounding the fields around the house, they out-breed their hunters' deprivations and are growing happily fat on the first forcing of lush spring grass. The warren inhabitants are not in the least bothered by the cars that pass on the road only yards from where they eat.  Nor are they bothered when we pull into the drive and get out of our vehicles.

I have found however that if you stand at the fence and shout "RUN!" in a stentorian manner, then they do indeed bolt for cover, two dozen white tails a-flashing as they go.

Simple country pleasures.