Shlain’s Thesis, third part: Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Feb. 28: Western Monotheism: Judaism and Christianity

Shlain, 202-260.

Mar. 1: Islam

Shlain, 261-291.

These three religious traditions make up the backbone of western religious culture, but why? What about them made these religions dominate western thought and culture, according to Shlain. How intertwined were they with one another?

  • 3 factual errors and where the correct information can be found
  • 3 omissions (things you needed to know to evaluate his argument)
  • 3 areas of logic or reasoning with you agree or disagree and a brief explanation as to why (see instructions for the Second Project, below)
  • 1 book or article on the week’s topic written after 1990 that he could have cited in his bibliography but did not.

Guest blog by Prof. David Yamada of Suffolk Law School:

This blog post is taken with permission from Minding the Workplace by David Yamada.

A plea for art as vocation and artists as leaders

Feb 21, 2012
by David Yamada

Kayhan Irani
What if our society made more room for artistic expression as a form of vocation and recognized more artists as leaders? Those are among the questions raised by Kayhan Irani, a self-styled “artivist” based in New York who uses her artistic and creative gifts to advance social change.

Kayhan has been a dear friend since 2004, when I invited her to Boston to present “We’ve Come Undone,” her compelling one-woman play about the challenges confronting immigrant women in the post-9/11 era. Since then, I’ve watched her define her vocational role and win plaudits for her artistic work, including a 2010 New York Emmy for a 9-episode educational television drama for immigrant New Yorkers and co-editorship of a book about the use of storytelling to advance social change. (Go here for her interesting and impressive bio.)

Yesterday on her blog, Kayhan asked readers to consider how art (of all types) can be sustaining work and how artists can serve as societal leaders. I wanted to share some of that with you and to offer a few responses.

Art as vocation

Kayhan first takes issue with stereotypes about artists and with assumptions that artistic work should not be a sustaining form of vocation:

“The messages that are broadcast in our society about artists are that we are irresponsible, stupid, drug addicts, mentally ill, have questionable morals; and that art is frivolous, a diversion, not serious work, it’s only for some people, it’s stupid, and can’t pay the bills.  In order to maintain the status quo, we need artists to remain on the fringes of society, barely visible, always teetering on the brink of poverty and irrelevance.”

“These messages get enforced from a very early age.  Imagine an adult asking you, with pleasure, if you are going to be a lawyer or a dancer when you grow up; what about a firefighter or a painter?  From a very young age, we are steered away from art-making as a life choice.”

Artists as leaders

Kayhan concludes by urging us to consider how artistic leadership can be a force for positive social change:

And that brings me to my main point: art and creativity are the most powerful forces we have for liberation.

Art can bring people together.  We don’t even need to speak the same language.

Art can make a way out of no way.  When people are living in oppressive situations, artists can help imagine a way out.  The fight for another world has to imagine that the impossible is possible.

Artists never stop questioning.  Creativity means to use your senses to engage in a process of inquiry.

So let the artists lead us.  Let us recognize that they already do!

Spot on

Kayhan’s call for a world where artistic expression helps us to envision better communities and lives sounds pretty good to me. And it sure would be nice if it was provided by artists who are able to earn a decent living from their work.

I’m not suggesting that we live without formal structures or ditch anything that smacks of “businesslike.” After all, as a lawyer and law professor, I believe that a world without the rule of law would be a pretty scary one. (I’m not exactly enamored with the legal system we have, but that’s for other posts.) And I fully acknowledge that enterprise and technology can bring us some neat stuff, such as the computer I’m using to produce this article.

However, we have got things way, way out of balance. In particular, the financial insanity that led us to the economic meltdown should have prompted a deeper questioning of basic values and major institutions, but I fear we are squandering that opportunity as we yearn for a “recovery” that puts us in a position to do it all over again.

In the meantime, many artists who have been dependent upon outside funding and non-profit sponsorship for their work are struggling even more.

New ways

So…to Kayhan’s eloquent plea I’ll add the need for societal structures that enable artistic work and are not as subject to the boom-and-bust cycles of our casino economy. I confess that I haven’t made all the “third way” connections between this and other forms of sustainable, community-oriented initiatives and enterprises, but I’m sure others have done so. Surely we cannot repeat the mess we’re in, right? Right?

Guest Blog: The Epiphany of Civilization by Michael DeLude

Michael J. DeLude

Hist 413-01 Blog Post

The foundation of law is the epiphany of civilization.  A civilization which aims to achieve a major force on the world stage must construct a codified system of laws that will allow society to flourish while limiting the amount of restraint placed upon the populace.  The formation of law in society is often an enigma wrapped in a mystery.  Often a law has mythical origins and a culture will use often use a deity or a collection of deities who “give” the laws to the people.  The most well known receiving of laws is the Ten Commandments.  All religious persons can retell the story of Moses on Mount Sinai.  Early civilizations used this mythical origin of laws to create fear in the populace and to provide a credible basis on which to found the laws.  The laws coming from a common, mortal human would most likely be disregarded and mocked.  Even secular laws can often find their origins within the paradigm of myth.  The Iroquois constitution and great law of peace is often credited with a major contribution to the American constitution.  The founding and creation of America has also become deified as George Washington assumes the role of the mythical lawmaker surrounded by a supporting cast of deities such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.  This gives the American Constitution the credibility needed to allow it to flourish.  The credibility of a set of laws is one of the major questions that I wish to have answered following the conclusion of this course.  What makes one follow a law; what gives law it’s power to control?  Another question that I would like to have answered is how a system of laws is actually created as opposed to the mythic origins?  And finally what is the connection between all systems of laws (is there even a connection)?  These are the three “big ideas” of questions that I would like to explore in this course.  We are all effected by laws and each in our own different way.

Shain’s Thesis continued:

Shlain’s treatment of Near Eastern and Western Culture is, if not exactly what recent experts in the field would all concur on, an approximation of the usual textbook version of events, with some modification. Most of us know less about Non-western and Eastern cultures, and this may seem more difficult to critique. If you are taking courses from Prof. Boyle or Prof. Jones, you may possess some knowledge from those classes. If not, you may remember things from your World Civ 1 class (Hist. 121). Remember that the point is for you to question what you read, all the time!


Feb. 21: Non-western Ancient Thought

Shlain, 159-178.

Feb. 23: Eastern Traditions

Shlain, 179-202.

Comment on two out of the four categories (Second Project):

  • 3 factual errors and where the correct information can be found
  • 3 omissions (things you needed to know to evaluate his argument)
  • 3 areas of logic or reasoning with you agree or disagree and a brief explanation as to why (see instructions for the Second Project, below)
  • 1 book or article on the week’s topic written after 1990 that he could have cited in his bibliography but did not.

Guest Blog: The Nomos and Narrative of the Dark Knight by Matt Banever

Matt Banever, February 10, 2012

What has struck me the most in this course so far is how the material we have covered relates a great deal to the characters of Batman, in particular, Batman and The Joker. When reading Cover’s article about nomos and narratives he mentions on page 32, “the social precondition for a nomos.” He goes on to explain that in order for a community to generate a form of narratives they need to have “some social boundary; otherwise, it would make no sense to think of them as distinct entities.” (Cover, 34).

Now the primary quote indicates that there is an origin for all social norms, and the narratives grow from that origin. This relates to Batman because he is an individual who understands that there is an inherent need for justice and order. Yet there are instances when one must remove oneself to enforce those norms. Communities and individuals gauge their specific norms by using other’s narratives to adjust their own. What struck me was this idea of a, “precondition for nomos”, that there is something that comes before the rules and laws. The precondition may be a void of order, the absence of law. And it is in that absence of structure that The Joker operates. The presence of his random injustice proves that there is no inherent justice–that communities, and individuals within those communities, have attempted to make sense of this chaos by creating and enforcing rules.

In  the film, The Dark Knight, The Joker acknowledges the use of narratives in a scene with Harvey Dent, telling him that “The cops have plans, Gordon’s got plans, they’re schemers, schemers trying to control their little worlds,” and he mocks their pathetic attempts to do so. He embraces that chaos is the big picture of the universe and when people adopt narratives that is when rules and order are “broken”. He tells Batman in a scene that “these civilized people, they need you now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out.” The Joker reveals that even the norms result in panic. Both Batman and The Joker are uncompromising in their beliefs about order. Cover, in his article about narratives, drives at the question that: do the narratives originate from a base of rule and we decide what we need, and we expand from that, simultaneously gauging our norms to others, or is chaos the natural order of things?

Beginning The Alphabet vs. The Goddess

Leonard Shlain’s book The Alphabet versus The Goddess is a highly controversial book by a historian without academic training in history. We will be testing this book’s thesis by checking his facts, his omissions, his logic and his use of historiography. Post in the comments sections

  • 3 factual errors and where the correct information can be found
  • 3 omissions (things you needed to know to evaluate his argument)
  • 3 areas of logic or reasoning with you agree or disagree and a brief explanation as to why
  • 1 book or article on the week’s topic written after 1990 that he could have cited in his bibliography but did not.

Goddess Worship and the Rise of the Alphabet in the Middle East and Greco-Roman World, Shlain, vii-71.

Nomos, Narrative and Bob Jones University v. The United States (1983)

In his article “Nomos and Narrative,” Robert Cover makes an argument for the US Supreme Court to accept the narrative offered by Bob Jones University as its basis for understanding the meaning of the First Amendment’s establishment clause and freedom of religion clause. When Prof. Cover wrote the article, the case had not yet been decided.

Here is a brief statement of the court’s ruling and you can read the entire case at

Bob Jones University v. United States (No. 81-3)
No. 81-1, 644 F.2d 879, and No. 81-3, 639 F.2d 147, affirmed.

Opinion [ Burger ]
Concurrence [ Powell ]
Dissent [ Rehnquist ]



461 U.S. 574

Bob Jones University v. United States


No. 81-3 Argued: October 12, 1982 — Decided: May 24, 1983 [*]
Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (IRC) provides that “[c]orporations . . . organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable . . . or educational purposes” are entitled to tax exemption. Until 1970, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) granted tax-exempt status under § 501(c)(3) to private schools, independent of racial admissions policies, and granted charitable deductions for contributions to such schools under § 170 of the IRC. But in 1970, the IRS concluded that it could no longer justify allowing tax-exempt status under § 501(c)(3) to private schools that practiced racial discrimination, and in 1971 issued Revenue Ruling 71-447 providing that a private school not having a racially nondiscriminatory policy as to students is not “charitable” within the common law concepts reflected in §§ 170 and 501(c)(3). In No. 81-3, petitioner Bob Jones University, while permitting unmarried Negroes to enroll as students, denies admission to applicants engaged in an interracial marriage or known to advocate interracial marriage or dating. Because of this admissions policy, the IRS revoked the University’s tax-exempt status. After paying a portion of the federal unemployment taxes for a certain taxable year, the University filed a refund action in Federal District Court, and the Government counterclaimed for unpaid taxes for that and other taxable years. Holding that the IRS exceeded its powers in revoking the University’s tax-exempt status and violated the University’s rights under the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, the District Court ordered the IRS to refund the taxes paid and rejected the counterclaim. The Court of Appeals reversed. In No. 81-1, petitioner Goldsboro Christian Schools maintains a racially discriminatory admissions policy based upon its interpretation of the Bible, accepting for the most part only Caucasian students. The IRS determined that Goldsboro was not an organization described in § 501(c)(3), and hence was required to pay federal social security and unemployment taxes. After paying a portion of such taxes for certain years, Goldsboro filed a refund suit in Federal District Court, and the IRS counterclaimed for unpaid taxes. The District Court entered summary judgment for [p575] the IRS, rejecting Goldsboro’s claim to tax-exempt status under § 501(c) (3) and also its claim that the denial of such status violated the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Neither petitioner qualifies as a tax-exempt organization under § 501(c)(3). Pp. 585-605.

The court rejected Cover’s particular argument about how to understand religious freedom, but that probably came as no surprise to Prof. Cover. The court reasoned,

(d) The Government’s fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners’ exercise of their religious beliefs. Petitioners’ asserted interests cannot be accommodated with that compelling governmental interest, and no less restrictive means are available to achieve the governmental interest. Pp. 602-604.

Why didn’t the court accept Cover’s understanding of the first amendment?

A Different Timeline

I was at the Yale Center for British Art on Feb. 3 and it was hosting British Antiquaries, an exhibit that included a “Roll Call,” or genealogy, that began with Adam and Eve and contained “Nine Worthies,” including King David (in the Bible), Julius Caesar, King Arthur, et al. The scroll is 40 feet long and I took a few pictures from a book (no pictures were allowed inside the exhibit). If you have a chance to get to New Haven and see this (Chapel and High Streets), I recommend it. It is free and open to the public.