Mississippi religious educators tackle variety of subjects
By LaReeca Rucker
They spend most of their week enlightening college students about religion and spirituality.
And when they're not educating eager young minds, they're writing about the topics they teach.
Seven Mississippi educators - six religion and philosophy professors and a college president - have recently penned books.
From belief systems, abortion and money management to Islam, Hinduism and atheism, a host of topics are covered.
University of Southern Mississippi professor David Holley, chairman of the department of philosophy and religion, challenges standard views about how to think about God and religious belief in his book Meaning and Mystery: What It Means to Believe in God (Wiley-Blackwell).
A high school student who was trying to decide whether to continue believing in God inspired the book, Holley said.
"The book is for people who, whether they believe in God or don't believe, recognize the need to think deeply about the issue," Holley said in a news release.
Publishers Weekly reviewed the book and said Holley is well versed in arguments on both sides of the question.
"In the end, Holley chooses faith over doubt and offers guidelines for those seeking an experience with the divine," the review reads.
Chris Meyers, assistant professor of philosophy at USM, takes on the topic of abortion in his latest book.
The Fetal Position: A Rational Approach to the Abortion Debate (Prometheus Press, June release) takes neither a pro-life nor pro-choice stance. Instead, Meyers uses an unbiased approach to examine commonly voiced arguments for and against abortion.
"This is the first in a planned series of books on controversial moral issues," Meyers said. "The book should be of interest to anyone who has not made up his or her mind once and for all, but who is willing to carefully consider the issue and come to a conclusion based on an unbiased examination of the evidence and arguments.
"I hope that it will help show readers how to engage in rational deliberation - not just about the abortion issue but about moral issues generally."
Ben Hardman, assistant professor of religion at USM, says much of the
tension in the Islamic world today can be traced back to French colonialism.
He explores such influences in his latest book Islam and the Métropole (Peter Lang Pub Inc.)
"The rediscovery and reconstruction of Islamic culture in Algeria is fascinating," he said in a news release. "There is much in this book that could inform America's current projects in the Middle East and in Iraq."
Hardman, who specializes in Islam, became interested in this topic while living in Algeria for four years and Maghrib for more than 10.
Lola Williamson, assistant professor of religious studies at Millsaps, says terms that were once obscure like "yoga," "karma" and "meditation" are now part of the American lexicon.
Combining Hinduism with Western concepts and values, a new hybrid form of religion has developed in the U.S. over the past century.
Williamson traces the history of various Hindu-inspired movements in America in her new book Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion (NYU Press), and argues that together they constitute a discrete category of religious practice and a distinct and identifiable form of new religion.
"I became interested in this topic through personal experience with meditation and Hindu gurus," she said. "I have been practicing meditation daily for 39 years."
Williamson said the book will appeal to anyone interested in Eastern spirituality and/or American religion. It is part of a series on new and alternative religions.
Business professor Nancy Anderson, a Mississippi College graduate who is one of the hosts of the statewide radio show on PBS called Money Talks, has released Tough Talk for Tough Times (Quail Ridge Press.)
"Do you know that the subject of money is one of the most often talked about by Jesus," Anderson said. "Our relationship to our pocketbooks speaks volumes about our spiritual relationship.
"While I don't directly list spiritual principles, I talk about the role of money in our everyday lives. I give my reason for writing this now by connecting the subject to my faith."
Anderson said she's hoping the financial crisis will initiate conversations about money management between parents and children.
"Jesus talks about God's care for the lilies of the field," she said, "and we read the story of the rich young ruler who could not give up his wealth to follow his true path.
"Managing your money wisely gives you freedom to change careers and pursue a different calling - the freedom to be generous to those in need - the freedom to concentrate on the people in your life."
Roger Parrott, president of Belhaven University, says many of today's ministries suffer from a near-sighted vision. He believes leaders too often choose easy solutions over principled, long-term strategies.
The Longview (David C. Cook) outlines a new approach to leadership, offering practical principles drawn from Scripture and his career in educational leadership.
He says America is currently paying the price for short-term decision-making.
"My call is for us to break free from the immediate result-driven culturethat has taken over business and permeated the church as well," he said on his website.
Hattiesburg resident Clayton Sullivan, professor emeritus of philosophy and comparative religion at USM, believes the 21st century is witnessing the emergence of a new atheism advocated by such writers as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.
In The Impossibility of Atheism (CrossBooks Publishing), he attempts to explain that arguments used in the past to counter atheism don't work today. A new tactic is required.
"In recent years numerous books have been published applauding atheism," he said in a news release. "To my knowledge, few attempts have been made to refute them."
Sullivan attempts to provide a method of countering atheism that is based on the work of the ancient philosopher Parmenides, who said it is impossible to think about something that does not exist.