Pandaemonium

A YEAR OF PANDAEMONIUM

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It has been an eventful year on Pandaemonium, not least because of the redesign, which seems mostly to have gone well. My thanks to everyone who has read, commented on and supported this blog. Here are some of the highlights of 2013 on Pandaemonium.


Immigration

Throughout the year much of British politics (indeed of European politics) has been dominated by the issue of immigration. It is an issue that has taken up much of my writing on Pandaemonium too.

I reviewed two of the key books that gave rise to much debate: David Goodhart’s The British Dream and Paul Collier’s Exodus (I also wrote a coda to the review of Exodus). David Goodhart replied to my review of his book; and I wrote in turn a three-part response, Immigration and loss, There is more than one way to skin a community and What do we mean by ‘integration’? David has promised in the New Year a reply to the debate so far.

The Lampedusa boat tragedy in October led to expressions of anger and grief from politicians and policy makers and a widespread debate about European immigration policies.  A policy without a conscience was my response to the tragedy  and the debate.

Critics of immigration, including Goodhart and Collier, often cite American sociologist Robert Puttnam’s research on trust and diversity as evidence for the need for greater restrictions on immigration. My post on Trust and diversity challenged such interpretations of the data.

In defence of diversity, an essay at the end of the year for New Humanist, pulled together much of the argument contained in these previous essays and reviews and placed the immigration debate in historical context.

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Religion

Linda Woodhead, professor of sociology of religion at Lancaster University, is one of the most acute observers of contemporary faith, so I was very pleased that she wrote an essay for Pandaemonium on How religious identity has changed based on a series of surveys she has been conducting. I used some of Woodhead’s survey data to answer the question What do believers believe?, and to explain the quandary facing religious institutions today.

I responsed to two of the key religious controversies of the year in Beyond the veil and On gay marriage, religious freedom and wild hysteria. Much of my argument here, and elsewhere, drew upon my Notes on Religious Freedom which, while published in 2012, continues to have relevance.

There has been much discussion in the West about the growth of Islamic sectarianism. The growth of Buddhist sectarianism, in Myanmar and Sri Lanka in particular, has been largely ignored. Buddhist pogroms and religious conflicts looked at this issue and the light Buddhist violence throws upon broader discussions about religion, sectarianism and terror.

Composition

Free speech

The pleasures of pluralism, the pain of offence, based largely on a talk I gave at the Council of Ex-Muslims’ sixth anniversary celebration, set out my argument for the necessity of free speech in a plural society.

A tribal view of press freedom, an essay in the New York Times, argued that many on both sides of the debate about press regulation in Britain fail to understand the meaning of free speech and want to impose censorship – though only for journalism they do not like.

When does criticism of Islam become Islamophobia?: My thoughts on a question I debated at a meeting hosted by Oxford Atheists, Secularists and Humanists (OXASH).

On the religious and cultural limits to free speech was another debate, this time with Nada Shabout, director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies at the University of North Texas, and hosted by Index on Censorship.

Also for Index on Censorship, I wrote an essay on Diversity, the market and artistic free expression, part of Beyond Belief, Index’s report on ‘Theatre, freedom of expression and public order’.

In Gerald Scarfe, anti-Semitism and the Danish cartoons, I explored the similarities and contrasts of two cartoon controversies.

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The history of moral thought

I finally completed The Quest for a Moral Compass, my book on the global history of moral thought (it will be published in April). I have been publishing on Pandaemonium a series of ‘work in progress’ extracts from the book, including, this year, Buddhism, reason and faith, Two Chinese philosophers, two historical fates and Communism and Confucianism.

In completing the book, I had to reduced the ms by some 30,000 words. Much of that was better off left on the cutting room floor. But there were also some portions coherent enough to be worth reading. So, I ran an occasional series publishing some of the more cogent sections that were no longer in the book.  These included essays on Machiavelli, Descartes  Locke, Greek cynics, skeptics, atomists and relativists, Greek thought and monotheism, and a two-part post, God and evil and Satan’s work, on the idea of evil in Christianity.

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The history of ideas

The highlight of the year on Pandaemonium for me was probably my interview with Jonathan Israel on the Enlightenment and historiography

Two posts explored the historical development of the idea of race, challenging traditional arguments about the history of racial thought: On the Enlightenment’s ‘race problem’ and The making of the idea of race.

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Culture

I made two short films for The Opera Group exploring the themes of its production American Lulu, Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth’s reworking of Alban Berg’s classic opera Lulu.  As part of the project, I had the privilege of interviewing Neuwirth, in Bregenz, Austria, where this production of American Lulu had its premiere.  I posted the films, the interview (and my somewhat critical take on the opera) in Behind the scenes of American Lulu.

Stories plucked from the worlds in-between was my foreward to Salman Rushdie, a new collection of essays edited by Robert Eaglestone and Martin McQuillan, and part of Bloomsbury’s Contemporary Critical Perspectivesseries.

The poet Kofi Awoonor was among those killed in the al-Shabab attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. I wrote an appreciation. I also wrote a tribute to Pablo Neruda, on the fortieth anniversary of his death in the wake of the 1973 Chilean coup.

Another death this year was that of  the composer John Taverner. Reflecting on his work, I asked What is sacred about sacred music?

One of the books I am most looking forward to next year in Marilynne Robinson’s Lila. My  essay on Robinson’s ‘haunting grace’ explained why.

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Science

I reviewed the report of an RSA workshop on Ian McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary (on the left brain-right brain debate) and ended up in a somewhat ill-tempered debate with McGilchrist himself.

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The Arab revolts

2013 was the year in which the Egyptian revolution not only disintegrated but began to eat its own. I wrote two essays tracking this transformation: Tyranny is always tyranny, whoever may be the target  and On the destruction of the Egyptian revolution.

Two essays explored also the dilemmas of the Syrian revolt: Morality and reality and The war of the cynics.

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Photography

In December I launched Light Infusion, my new photography website. Through the year I published a lot of my work on Pandaemonium, including The beauty in the brutal, London old and new, The beauty of light, In a magical light, Bad weather blues and Between Tate Modern and St Paul’s.

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Top posts

And these are the ten most-read posts of the year. Yes, there are actually 13 of them – that is because three of the posts in the top ten actually come from 2012 (‘Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate’, ‘Why Hate Speech Should Not be Banned’ and ‘What is Wrong with Multiculturalism?’), so I have added the next three 2013 posts too. Many thanks to all my readers. I hope you continue reading Pandaemonium over the next year. And best wishes for 2014.

The facts, the myths and the framing of immigration

When does criticism of islam become Islamophobia?

What do believers believe? Not what you might expect

Why both sides are wrong in the race debate

Why hate speech should not be banned

Gerald Scarfe, anti-Semitism and the Danish cartoons

Religion is not what it used to be

Reflections on Woolwich

What is wrong with multiculturalism?

On the Enlightenment’s ‘race problem’

Migration and morality

Myths of radicalisation

Gay marriage, religious freedom and wild hysteria 

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The paintings are by El Lissitzky and Kazimir Malevich