Category Archives: Religious literacy

Decolonising Religious Studies and Promoting Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: Preliminary Findings  

 By Suzanne Newcombe 

Scholars have increasingly come to recognise that Religious Studies as a discipline is based on the legacies of a colonial worldview, i.e. that what we have classified as religious beliefs and practices have used criteria drawn from white Anglo-European Protestantism. Several members of our department have been leaders in forwarding this discussion within the discipline (e.g. Cotter and Robertson 2016). So, when it came time to design our new second year module here at the Open University, we chose to take a novel approach to Exploring Religions: Places, Practices, Texts and Experiences (A227), first presented in September 2017. Instead of introducing religions from the ‘top down’ – with an emphasis on institutional authority, official beliefs, and structures – we decided as a department to explore religion from be ‘bottom up’ – with an emphasis on what people do, practice and experience as religion (or non-religion) in different specific contexts. In this way, we hoped to challenge what is known as the ‘World Religion Paradigm’ which presents the most popular religious traditions in the world in ‘neat packages’ of the major beliefs, festivals and historical trajectories of institutionalised forms of religion. (A short introduction to our approach to Religious Studies as a subject area is here).  

But we also very much wanted our exploration of religion to be enjoyable, accessible, and relatable to our diverse student demographic. So many of our students are facing multiple challenges and demands on their attention while on their study journey. Many are working full-time – and some are studying at full-time intensity as well as having caring responsibilities at home. We also know that a higher-than-average percentage of students on A227 (38% this year) have declared one or more disabilities. 

Taken together, these issues raised two key questions for the department:  

  1. What challenges to students and staff may have been created in attempting to create a paradigm shift in understandings of ‘religion’ as a concept (in moving away from ‘World Religions’ towards ‘lived religion’)?  How can these challenges be better addressed?  
  2. (2) How can equality, diversity and inclusion be more effectively promoted in the curriculum? What challenges could this potentially pose for staff and students? How can these challenges be better addressed? 

To address these questions, we set up a research project, Decolonising Religious Studies. We first interviewed the Associate Lecturers teaching on A227: Exploring Religion, focusing on their impressions of the curriculum and the difficulties that their students reported. Next, we carried out a survey of all students of A227 (17J-20J) in June/July 2021 and held three focus group interviews with nine students in total. We asked them for their impressions of the module, including what we did well, and what we could do better. Finally, we talked with nine colleagues teaching Religious Studies in other UK-based institutions. We asked them, how do you understand Religious Studies as a subject area? What are the subject area’s biggest challenges? What is best practice for teaching and promoting Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) within the subject area?  

We are just now starting to analyse the data from this project and will be publishing a full peer-reviewed article exploring the findings in more depth. However, we can give you some initial results of the research and some of the interventions we have already begun to try to improve our students’ experience.  

Our Associate Lecturers, many of whom taught on the previous module (A217: Introducing Religions) which was framed more within the World Religions Paradigm, had preferences for familiar ways of teaching and presenting the material. However, they were also coping with adaptation to new technologies with the disruption of all face-to-face teaching during the pandemic. All were working on trying to teach basic essay-writing skills and deal sympathetically with students’ personal challenges as well as teaching the course content. In response, team members Hugh Beattie and Paul-François Tremlett have set up regular online meetings between the Associate Lecturers and Central Academic colleagues to share best practice and new developments in Religious Studies as a field of study.   

We had a respectable 16% response rate from past and present students who we surveyed about their experience on A227. While most students found that the way the material was structured met their expectations, a significant minority of students didn’t feel that they were taught the content they expected to learn.  

To address expectations on A227, the A227 Module Team set up an expectation setting activity in the student forum in advance of the official module start date. In this activity we explained the World Religion Paradigm and why we are taking a different approach. This has significantly increased engagement in the early weeks of the module. Our focus groups also highlighted that there is no discussion of how religions understand disability – or visibility of people with disability – within the A227 material, an oversight that we will take into consideration in drafting new module material.  

Our interviews with nine external Religious Studies colleagues highlighted that Religious Studies as a subject is intimately bound up with decolonisation and EDI issues. All colleagues saw a need to explain and justify to colleagues and those outside the university environment why a critical study of religion was important. This was often understood in the context of a more general devaluing of the social sciences and humanities in the policy and media environments.  

There was a universal concern with best practice in teaching. Many colleagues were doing novel experiments in both teaching and assessment; applying these ideas in the unique environment of the OU will take some thought but is well worth considering. There was also a near-universal acknowledgement that undergraduate students underwent an important period of adjustment in which many aspects of their world are critically examined in a new way. This is a challenging experience that students need to be supported in. The dominant approach was usually a more explicit deconstruction of the world religious paradigm, while teaching within it to begin with at the same time as explaining how the concepts originated in specific historical contexts and have important political implications in the present day. The lived religion or a variety of thematic focuses usually followed this introduction on a structured three-year course specifically in Religious Studies.    

We hope that these insights, as well as our further analysis, will help ‘feed forward’ to making both A227 and new material currently being written for the Open University more effective and accessible for all students. Our human beliefs and practices have profound impacts on how we interact with shared global challenges such the climate crisis, the recent pandemic and our positions on war and peace. We want our students to leave our courses feeling more prepared to meet these challenges with confidence in their ability to approach new information and articulate their views in a critical and evidence-based manner.  

We wish to thank FASSTESTthe Open University’s Centre for Scholarship and Innovation(@OU_FASSTEST) for their help and support for projects No. 51 and 61 | Project Team: Hugh Beattie, John Maiden, Suzanne Newcombe, Maria Nita and Paul-François Tremlett. 

References  

Bryan, A. (2016). The sociology classroom as a pedagogical site of discomfort: Difficult knowledge and the emotional dynamics of teaching and learning. Irish Journal of Sociology, 24(1), 7–33. https://doi.org/10.1177/0791603516629463 

Decoloniality at Contending Modernities @ Notre Dame 

Barrett, J (2020) Critical Theory in World Religions: An experiment in Course (re)Design. Implicit Religion 23.3, 218-232. https://doi.org/10.1558/imre.43226  

Cotter, Christopher and Robertson, David, eds. (2016). After world religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies. Religion in Culture: Studies in Social Contest and Construction. London: Routledge.  

Day, Lee, et al. (eds) (2022) Diversity, Inclusion, and Decolonization: Practical Tools for Improving Teaching, Research, and Scholarship. Bristol University Press.  

van Klinken, A. (2020) ‘Studying Religion in the Pluriversity: Decolonial Perspectives’ Religion, 50:1, 148-155, DOI: 10.1080/0048721X.2019.1681108 

Lewin, D (2020) Reduction without Reductionism: Re-Imagining Religious Studies and Religious Education. Implicit Religion 23.3, 193–217. https://doi.org/10.1558/imre.43225  

Nye, M. (2019) Race and religion: postcolonial formations of power and whiteness. Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, 31(3), pp. 210-237. (doi: 10.1163/15700682-12341444) 

Nye, M. (2017) Some thoughts on the Decolonization of Religious Studies: postcolonialism, decoloniality, and the cultural study of religion.  

Promoting Better Public Understanding of Religion and Worldviews

By Suzanne Newcombe

Religion is an area of great contention. Media – both ‘social’ or traditional – seeks to gain attention by tantalising lines which inflame our passions and tug on our heartstrings. What better for the media to grab our attention, than by drawing attention some of the most deeply felt aspects of our identity and sense of connection with others. Yet identification with traditional, institutionalised religion is fading from public declarations of identity in Britain (see our new OpenLearn course Census Stories for more on this).

As we grapple with how we fit together as a society – what are our shared values and connective rituals? – beliefs continue to grab headlines, drive our behaviour and spark our anxieties.  On a global scale, religious identity continues to be an important element of facing shared global challenges of climate change, migration, and the growing inequalities in health and wealth.  The scale of these challenges means that accurate and sensitive discussions of religion – the beliefs and practices which shape our values and sense of identity – is as important and relevant as ever.

The vision for this project came from the realisation that there is a lot of excellent, but largely under-coordinated and under-resourced work seeking to improve the public discussions around a critical religious literacy. Improving public understanding about the nature of religion and belief, as well as ensuring information about these human practices is accurately conveyed in public discourse, needs a multi-pronged approach. Transforming public understandings requires greater coordination between school-level teachers of Religious Education, university-level educators in the Study of Religion, the media, civil servants and policy makers.

In the summer of 2020, the Open University’s Religious Studies Department and Inform held a virtual roundtable to solidify networks between the many passionate and committed actors trying to improve public understandings about religion and how it needs to be considered in communications for facing many social challenges involving health, security and education.  The Faith and Belief Form shared its specific expertise in promoting community cohesion and promoting strong, productive and positive relations between people of different faiths and no-faith. Also in attendance was the CEO of Culham St Gabriel’s charity; Culham was in the process of strengthening its strategic commitment to promoting the Religious Education Council’s report on Religion and Worldviews (2018). Together with Inform’s commitment to promoting accurate information about minority religions and agile social scientific research team, and the Open University’s commitment to educating wider publics through its unique nationwide, online platforms – the Religion and Worldviews project was collaboratively initiated.

We are almost half-way into this project now. The first output was a ‘Baseline Report’ which provides an overview of the existing reports relative to both Religious Education (RE) and to the perception of religion in public life more generally.  This report has raised a number of key questions about public perceptions of the Study of Religion as a subject. Meanwhile primary research by Inform on perceptions of religious education at British schools by current University Students as well as an independent general population survey commissioned by Culham’s in the summer of 2021, provides valuable evidence that many people find much of value in school-level Religious Education.

We are in the middle of the project and are currently seeking to better understand to what extent Religion and Worldviews proposal might be able to provide a coherent way forward for religious education at school level in England – and what the barriers are toward finding consensus around a more shared vision of the study of religion in schools. This autumn, led by the Faith and Belief Forum, the project is holding a number of focus groups with community groups, SACRES, educational leaders, parents and those who have influence on educational policy to try to determine the barriers to implementing a more vibrant and coherent approach to religious education that is fit for purpose in our contemporary world. The eventual outputs of the project will be a series of resources to help school leaders, civil servants, parents and others ‘outside the classroom’ better articulate a coherent vision of Religion and Worldviews as a way forward for best addressing the variety of competing needs around religious education at this time.  Our Resources Packs should be ready in the summer of 2022.

With the diverse competing interests of religious and secular beliefs and practices, it is hard to achieve consensus on a shared coherent vision for religious education. Yet the need is great. Religious and non-religious beliefs will continue to inform the frameworks of public debate as we move to face the shared global challenges of coping with inequalities of wealth and health as well as the effects of climate change.

It is hoped that this project will help coalesce a better consensus around Religion and Worldviews as being a container which can move largely shared agendas forward. Religious actors as well as university and school-level educators passionately believe in the importance of accurate and sensitive understandings of religious and secular worldviews being presented in public discourse. Alongside other partners, this project hopes to drive this broadly shared agenda forward.

Census Stories | Bringing Life to the Big Numbers

By Suzanne Newcombe 

Sunday 21 March 2021 was Census Day – your household will have received a unique access code for you to fill out your census details. While this is the first time the census has been done fully online, the first census of England, Wales and Scotland was in 1801 and it has been conducted decennially (every ten years) since then. The repeating of the same questions every ten years – determining who lives in the country, how many people and some basic facts about them – has become essential for forward planning of social services, determining allocation of resources, and, over time, for researching family history and understanding change over time. While these big numbers are essential for understanding major changes and transformations of society, they do not capture the rich contradictions and experiences of a lived life – what those categories of identity, place, belief and belonging mean for the people who ticked the boxes.  

The Religious Studies Department at the Open University has embarked on a UKRI funded project to elicit stories from diverse residents of Milton Keynes on themes of identity, place and belonging in response to the census questions. Through the facilitation of the professional storyteller Dominic Kelly, local residents will respond to this data and co-create a series of stories. We will use the stories elicited from local residents to create classroom resources and an Open Learn online course which will help teach about the significance of census data for measuring changes in society – and what the ‘big data’ actually looks liked from the perspective of the people who ‘are’ the statistics. You can see the official announcement at https://ahrc.ukri.org/research/readwatchlisten/features/public-engagement-with-the-census-research/ 

Place of birth, age and current employment have long been essential questions on the census, recording the movement of people across Britain and increasingly the world. However, questions around ‘ethnicity’ were not included in the census until 1991 – prior to this point a place of birth in the Commonwealth was used as a proxy for ‘white’ and ‘non-white’ populations. The changes to how these questions have been phrased and their increasing relevance for policy decisions can help us trace the development of a category of identity as well as the movements of political concerns.

“1901 Census UK showing Farquharson and Benningfield Families in Hoddesdon, Herts.x” by Miranda Hine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Questions about religious identification have only been on the census since 2001 – and perhaps the most dramatic change in this period is the rapid increase of people willing to identify as having ‘no religion’ (shifting from 15% in 2001 to 27.9% in 2011 for England and Wales). But the ability to write-in religious affiliation on the census has been successfully used my many smaller minority groups to lobby for better acknowledgement in local and national provisions – including pagans, SikhsValmikis and Humanists, amongst others.  

Better understanding the complex kaleidoscope of affiliations, beliefs and practices people draw upon to face complex global challenges (like the current pandemic) is part of the core mission of our department to promote the understanding of contemporary religion in historical perspective. We’ll update you about the outputs and project in our social media feeds as the project progresses this Spring.  

Critical Religious Literacy: Education and Empowerment

By Paul-François Tremlett

[What follows is an edited version of the paper I presented at the 8th IARS conference at the University of East London this January 29th, which was on the theme of violent youth radicalisation in Europe.]

Religious education in Britain has seen itself as contributing to the wider social aims of education, such as instilling tolerance, respect for difference and building social cohesion. However, in recent years religious education has been in something of a crisis. First has been the general suggestion that religious education is failing to meet its social aims, because it is failing to represent religions accurately. According to Barnes, “…current representations of religion in British religious education are limited in their capacity to challenge racism and religious intolerance, chiefly because they are conceptually ill-equipped to develop respect for difference” (2006, p. 396), while according to Panjwani and Revell, representations of Islam in textbooks, examinations and syllabi are essentialized “leading to stereotypes and unsubstantiated generalizations” (2018, p. 269).

Second is the ongoing decline in the numbers of pupils taking Religious Education at GCSE and A-Level in England and Wales and in the recruitment of students to undergraduate courses and qualifications in Religious Studies. For example, a recent report by the Religious Education Council found that entries for GCSE RS (combined short and full courses) in England and Wales had peaked in 2011 at 461,795: today’s figures show a decline in entries of 42.6% in eight years with almost 200,000 fewer pupils achieving a qualification in RS at the end of KS4. Moreover, according to a report by the British Academy, there were around 6,500 fewer students on Theology and Religious Studies courses in higher education institutions in 2017/18 than there were in 2011/12.

In light of this crisis in teaching and in recruitment, a report by the Commission on Religious Education report titled ‘Religion and Worldviews: The Way Forward: A National Plan For RE’, aimed at revitalising the subject area in schools, drew the following response from the association of departments of Theology and Religious Studies in the UK (TRS-UK):

We consider the subject as crucial for all pupils, for their understanding of themselves and others, and of local and global realities. The current decline in religious literacy is already resulting in prejudice, discrimination, fear, hatred, and an impoverished public discourse. Education about religion and worldviews is important for all citizens, whether they are themselves religious or not. The unique combination of skills fostered by the subject is essential in the workplace, in the media, and in politics (local, national and international), and all pupils deserve to be well taught in this subject (link).

TRS-UK draw a causal link between declining “religious literacy” and instances of “prejudice, discrimination, fear, hatred, and an impoverished public discourse”. But what is religious literacy and how can it empower young people against prejudice and discrimination?

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Why do we teach Religious Studies? Because Religion Matters.

The figure dominating this image, a highlight in the Kansas State Capital building, is that of John Brown (1800-1859). He was an infamous abolitionist who believed that armed conflict was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States. Here he holds a Bible in his left hand, and a Sharps rifle in his right; he is a Moses-like figure straddling a river of blood between the waring Union and Confederate armies.

I grew up in abolitionist-founded Lawrence, Kansas over a hundred years after these events, but John Brown remained a figure in the collective memory of local myth. Along with many of my peers, I cheerfully and enthusiastically joined in rounds of the lively folk song:

John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave
John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave,
John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave,
But his truth goes marching on.

One of the truths I learned growing up in a land of passionate and largely unchallenged belief was that religion has incredible power to motivate people. It brings out the best in people – and the worst. I learned that many people with passionate beliefs do not practice what they preach. However, others provided amazing inspirational examples of being willing to die for their moral principles.

But another thing I experienced was that the people around me often did not know much about what was going on around them, about their neighbours, or about the myths and history which continue to influence contemporary decisions. Because freedom of belief was a Constitutional Right, we did not often challenge others to explain their beliefs or behaviours.

And religion does matter – whether we are believers, atheists, or something in between, it is implicated in our societies if we like it or not. We need tools to understand the role it plays in creating political, social, economic and environmental problems. Religion also has the potential to inspire us to solve many of the global challenges we face today.

Today, Religious Studies offers us the interdisciplinary tools to understand and interact with those who may believe and practice things very different than ourselves. We use the tools of history and the humanities to better explore and understand ourselves and others. We also use the critical investigative tools of the social sciences to get an evidence base for what people are actually saying and doing, what these actions mean, and what might be the best ways to engage. In Religious Studies, we practice identifying the best available tools to address our questions in a disciplined, critical and evidenced based way.

To this end, my colleagues Hugh Beattie and Graham Harvey and I have designed a free FutureLearn course to highlight Why Religion Matters. This course is not a list of beliefs and practices of world religions to encourage greater tolerance. This course aims to give you the skills to critically engage with the world around you. It aims to encourage you not make assumptions, but to educate yourself to ask and engage actively with the meaning-making assumptions of both others – and yourself.

Fostering Creativity in Higher Education: the Case for Religious Studies

By Stefanie Sinclair

[This piece originally appeared in the Bulletin of the British Association for the Study of Religion 132 (Nov 2018). You can read the full issue here. Stefanie was the recipient of the first BASR Teaching Award, and this piece celebrates her achievement.] 

Creativity is in demand. As Gaspar and Mabic point out, “in the last decade creativity has become a mantra which is used by politicians, businessmen, employees, teachers, professors, students and others. Creativity is seen as a cure for a wide range of [social, economic and educational] problems” (2015, p. 598). It is valued as an important life skill, linked to increased levels of wellbeing and depth of learning. It can build resilience and help solve complex problems. Creativity has also been identified as an increasingly desirable graduate attribute that cannot easily be outsourced or replaced by machines in a labour market increasingly dominated by technology (Blessinger and Watts 2017, 3; Csikszentmihalyi 2006; Gauntlett 2011; Osmani et al. 2015; Rampersad and Patel 2014; Robinson 2011).

While there is wide-ranging agreement that higher education can play an important role in fostering creativity, there have been claims that it is not doing enough and there are “calls for a more rigorous approach to teaching creativity” in higher education (Rampersad and Patel 2014, 1). However, there are many different views on what creativity actually is and how its development can be best supported. Studies have, for example, found that academic staff and students in higher education often have different understandings of the concept of creativity. When interviewing academic staff from a range of subject disciplines at Liverpool John Moores University and University College London (UCL), Edwards et al. (2006) found that the academics they interviewed tended to associate creativity with originality, with being imaginative, with exploring or ‘adventuring’ for the purpose of discovery, with synthesis and making sense of complexity and with communication. A parallel study of students’ perception of creativity, on the other hand, found that students tended to associate creativity with freedom from routine and from the need to justify oneself, with expression of imagination, with independence, risk and sometimes superficiality. Students also typically described creativity as something personal and infectious (Oliver et al. 2006). These differences highlight the elusive and complex nature of this concept (Kleinman 2008, 209). Notions of creativity range from understanding it as an elite enterprise that is reserved for the talented and gifted few, to the increasingly influential understanding of creativity as a powerful collaborative process that can and should be harnessed in everyone (Rampersad and Patel 2014, 1; Robinson 2011). I find the latter particularly convincing.

However, in an environment determined by league tables, funding cuts, stifling levels of bureaucracy and the looming pressure of the REF and TEF, where students are increasingly encouraged to approach education as customers purchasing qualifications, it can be very challenging to inject creativity into the curriculum and adopt a greater focus on teaching and learning as a collaborative process of discovery and growth. So what can we do to address this? Csikszentmihalyi argues that “if one wishes to inject creativity in the educational system, the first step might be to help students find out what they truly love, and help them immerse themselves in the domain” (2006, xix). He contends that to support this process, it is important that teachers model the joy of learning and the passion for their subject discipline themselves. As Kleinman concludes, “academics need to be perceived and involved as agents in their own and their students creativity rather than as objects of, or more pertinently, deliverers of a particular ‘creativity agenda’ “(2008, 216). As part of the Open University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences teaching scholarship seminar series on ‘Creativity and criticality in online learning’ colleagues got together last summer to talk to each other about their passion for their respective subject areas – and some filmed each other talking about this on their smart phones. In the midst of stressful deadlines and piles of paperwork, many colleagues commented on how refreshing and energising they found it to remind themselves and each other of their deep passion for their subject areas and for teaching and research. In the context of the many pressures academics are facing, it is important not to lose sight of why we’re in ‘it’ in the first place, and it is important for our students to see this, too.

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Islamic state, Dabiq, the Mahdi and the end-times

Dabiq is the name of a small town in northern Syria with no special claim to fame apart from the fact that the Umayyad caliph Sulaiman ibn Abd al-Malik (674-717 CE: reigned 715-717) was buried there in 717. So why has Islamic State (ISIS) called the magazine it publishes Dabiq? The main reason appears to be that according to Muslim eschatological tradition it will be the site of a major battle that will be fought between Muslims and Christian invaders, a battle that will be one of the signs that the end-times have begun[1].

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Iconoclasm, Daesh and Modernity

Howls of outrage from Western media greeted recent evidence of organised iconoclasm by Daesh. Footage of statues being destroyed by cadres armed with drills and sledge hammers in what is thought to be a museum in Mosul in Iraq (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-31647484) followed claims that they had also burnt down the city’s library. Since then, evidence has emerged that they have bulldozed the archaeological site at Nimrud (http://www.wsj.com/articles/islamic-state-militants-bulldoze-ancient-nimrud-archaeological-site-1425600798). This latter act was described as a war crime by the UN and has fed a frenzy of media stories about Daesh (‘Isis demolition is war crime against heritage, says UN’ The Times 07-03-2015). In this short post I follow the example of thought experiment cum unsettling juxtaposition (of Immanuel Kant and Sayyid Qutb) by Caroline Rooney in her piece ‘From Religion and Security to Religion and Liberty’ http://www.paccsresearch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Religion-Security-Global-Uncertainties.pdf). Specifically, I want to juxtapose acts of iconoclasm from sixteenth century Europe and twenty first century Iraq to interrogate how they are narrated and understood.

During the sixteenth century, European cities including Antwerp, Basle, Wittenberg and Zurich were rocked by riots, arson, looting and the removal, theft or destruction of books and statues (among other things) from convents and churches. Inspired if not actually led by men such as John Calvin, Andreas Karlstadt, Martin Luther and Heinrich Zwingli, these upheavals have become integral to a popular historical and sociological narrative whereby Protestant rationalization of (pathologically) elaborate (and corrupt) Catholic ritualism opened up space for the emergence of a new (but gendered) subject able to access the Word (of God) and interpret it without the mediation of the Catholic Church. This event transformed Western Christianity (and indeed ‘religion’) into a private mental state called belief, and envisioned ‘the believer’ applying Reason to read and interpret Scripture. This story (or myth) elided the iconoclastic violence of the Reformation to tell a story about freedom from despotic authority and the emergence of Reason. Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism implicated this subject and the narrative of freedom and Reason in the development of capitalism and the modern political and social order or in short, modernity.

It is important to draw responsible conclusions from thought experiments of this kind. A simple place to begin might be that contemporary understanding of the Antwerp iconoclasm of August 20, 1566 (represented by Hogenberg in an etching titled The Iconoclasm c. 1570, showing the looting and destruction of a church by men carrying clubs under the cover of darkness – note the figure bottom right carrying a candle https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=hogenberg+iconoclasm&espv=2&biw=1517&bih=714&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=bGkVVay4L87iapnYgAg&ved=0CAYQ_AUoAQ&dpr=0.9) is dramatically different from the people who actually lived through it. Catholic commentators of the time certainly did not regard it as an event likely to precipitate any kind of Enlightenment. In like fashion, understanding of the Mosul and Nimrud iconoclasms is likely to alter through time. But benign historical relativism is not where I want to end. The iconoclasms at Mosul and Nimrud are difficult to understand but most difficult of all is the recognition that Daesh see themselves as engaged in emancipatory acts guided by the application of Reason. As such, their acts of iconoclasm are unfolding within what is a very familiar mental architecture. Is it possible that by seeing ourselves in Daesh we will understand ourselves and Daesh with greater clarity? And by doing that, will we in turn become much clearer about the people we want to be and the kind of society we want to preserve?

 Paul-Francois Tremlett