More proof: Dogs are Awesome

In one of those moments of life synergy and synchonicity, the podcast that popped up yesterday on my daily dogwalk was a great episode from Interfaith Voices. I’ve written about them before: Maureen Fiedler, the host, interviews a wide variety of religious leaders, scholars, and authors on relevant and current religious topics. Her questions are thoughtful and the show is always interesting. This time around, she interviewed Gerard Russell about the forgotten religions of the Middle East (which happens to be the subject of a new book he has written called Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms). They touched on the Druze, Alawites (who hold some fascinating, secretive beliefs), Yazidis, and Zoroastrians and the challenges each face in today’s world, particularly as a result of terrorism and conflict in the Middle East.

I was excited to hear more about Zoroastrians since they have been our current topic of discussion in class. The best fun fact? I’ve mentioned before that Zoroastrians see the world as taking part in a great battle between good and evil. Dogs, according to Zoroastrians, are most definitely fighters on the side of good: kind, virtuous, and loyal. Seems logical to me.

Just one of those benevolent, honorable, amazing creatures.

Just one of those benevolent, honorable, amazing creatures.

I encourage you to give the podcast a listen, and I will certainly be checking out Russell’s book.

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Cultivating Vultures to Restore a Mumbai Ritual – NYTimes.com

My student teacher pointed this article from 2012 out to me today, as we were discussing Zoroastrian rituals in class. Seems that environmental factors were killing off the vultures that usually fed at the Towers of Silence in the Zoroastrian tradition. Just another example of the challenges in adapting ancient practices to the modern world. I wonder how the vulture population is doing today?

Cultivating Vultures to Restore a Mumbai Ritual – NYTimes.com.

Zoroastrianism: Beginnings and Endings

Lately I’ve been trying to teach my World Religions class about Zoroastrianism. I say trying because in the past two weeks we’ve had only 1.5 days of class, meaning I have only seen my WR students once. So what is typically a short unit on Zoroastrianism, an introduction and/or foundation for the ethical monotheistic faiths that will follow, has now been drawn out over sixteen days. I think they will hardly remember anything about this faith when we get to day 2.

But, I’ll persist for two main reasons: in Zoroastrianism, we get a sense of important beginnings and get to explore the fears that surround possible endings. By beginnings, I mean the basic ideas of monotheism, heaven and hell, and human free will that exist within Zoroastrianism and are seen in later monotheistic faiths. Studying Zoroastrianism gives us a chance to talk about these ideas in an unfamiliar context, and maybe consider them more objectively. But the number of adherents to faith is also dwindling, and by looking at the contemporary state of Zoroastrianism, we get to think about how religions grow and fade, and what factors might lead to their demise.

On day one, we focused on the beginnings and the basics of the faith, via some videos, a lecture, and readings. I try to emphasize those foundational ideas that I mentioned earlier: monotheism, good vs. evil, Heaven, Hell, and free will. The ideas are incredibly familiar to the students but the names of the god (Ahura Mazda) and the force of evil (Angra Mainyu–best name ever), the use of water and fire in practice, and the locations and traditions all make it something different and intriguing.

On day 2, whenever that happens, I hope to have students complete a webquest reviewing the practices of Zoroastrianism as well as investigating the question of intermarriage. As a rule, the practice of marriage outside of the faith has been discouraged, but not barred, and so the numbers of children born into the faith are dropping over time. In response, old-fashioned Zoroastrian matchmakers and more new-fangled singles Zoroastrian websites have emerged.

A Temple of Silence, or dakhma, used for interring the dead without polluting the earth or other elements. One of the more unique features of Zoroastrianism.

A Temple of Silence, or dakhma, used for interring the dead without polluting the earth or other elements. One of the more unique features of Zoroastrianism.

Intermarriage is one factor, but there is also the simple struggle of practicing a minority faith far from home. This video from the NYT captures this challenge and the efforts made by current generations to maintain the practices and traditions (there is an accompanying article, too). So, in this small religion (less than 200,000 adherents today), we witness the advantages and disadvantages of a faith readily adapting to new countries and new eras, and we also learn about the big ideas in religion and philosophy that began to dramatically change the world 3,000 years ago. Here’s hoping I actually get to teach this lesson Monday!

P.S. I’ve taken some of my snow-day time to update the Resources and Reading List pages. Check them out! (I’ve also taken some of my snow-day time to sleep in and play with the dog, don’t worry!).