European Identity Politics and the Memory of Paganism – a conference panel in Amsterdam, 20 April 2012

Last December I was approached by Markha Valenta, a colleague in the history department of the UvA and an occasional contributor to the OpenDemocracy project, asking if I wanted to organize a panel for the upcoming international conference on “Regimes of Religious Pluralism in 20th-Century Europe”. The invitation was inspired by some of the things I wrote on this blog concerning Behring Breivik and religion last summer, and my role would be to compose a “heterodox” component for the conference. I said yes, and started contacting some people. Now, one month before the conference starts, we have three speakers and a juicy topic: “European Identity Politics and the Memory of Paganism”. Below follows a description of the panel’s theme, and a list of speakers and titles.


Bad science is normal (pseudoscience is neither)

Frankenstein's monster, immortalized by Boris Karloff's performance

Science gone bad. Frankenstein's monster, immortalized by Boris Karloff's performance.

I have an unhealthy interest in what some like to call the “pseudosciences”. Having spent quite a bit of time trying to understand this category from historical, sociological, and philosophical perspectives, I have also developed a keen interest for another category, “bad science”. Bad science and pseudoscience should not be confused with each other, however. While pseudoscience may also be bad science, most of bad science is not generally considered pseudoscience. In fact, bad science is normal. Pseudoscience, on the other hand, is defined precisely by deviating from the norm of science.


Terror in the Mind of Who? A response to Mark Juergensmeyer on Breivik’s Christianity (and much besides)

The question of whether or not, or in what sense, the 22/7 Oslo terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is a “Christian”, and to what extent his Christianity had anything to do with his motivations to kill, has stirred up some debate. In my first post on Breivik I referred to sociologist of religion Massimo Introvigne’s refutation of the “Christian Fundamentalist” label, a label that really makes very little sense. More recently, however, other scholars of religion have insisted on emphasising Breivik’s Christianity, although refraining from categorizing it as Fundamentalism. At the University of Chicago the well-known American historian of religion Martin E. Marty writes about Breivik the Protestant. Meanwhile, another American scholar of note, Mark Juergensmeyer, insists that we see Breivik as a “Christian terrorist”.


Fiction, Templars, and Terrorism

Heresy Corner has a good post on the Templar theme in Anders Behring Breivik’s manifesto. It particularly discusses the author’s ambiguous claim that the whole thing is to be read as “fictional” (scare-quotes in the original). Opening the post with a quote from Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum sets the right tone from the start:

“The lunatic is all idée fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars.”


Counterjihadist Templar Terrorism? Some reflections on the terrorist from Oslo west

Prime Minister's Office, Oslo, Norway, July 22, 2011.

This is not a political blog, but sometimes something happens that gives an urgent feeling to express oneself. The horrible events in Oslo and at Utøya Friday 22 July were of this sort. I happened to have recently returned to Norway for a summer vacation, passing close by the bomb site Friday morning, then to watch the utterly absurd situation unfold on television in Trondheim that afternoon. Like the rest of the country, I have been pretty much glued to the TV screen since then. I have also spent considerable time reading the perpetrator’s 1500 page “manifesto” trying to identify, analyse and dissect motivations and ideological underpinnings, and engaging in long and sometimes heated discussions with friends about all this.


Peter Burke, the social history of knowledge, and “agnotology” – notes on a lecture

It’s been a busy spring so far, and unfortunately not much time for keeping this blog running. In an attempt to get started again I will give a brief report on Professor Peter Burke’s visit to Amsterdam last week, and particularly one lecture (out of two) he gave on that occasion.


Giants’ Shoulders #29: Esoteric Science Special

Athanasius Kircher's museum

Heterodoxology is proud to present the twenty-ninth installment of your favourite History of Science Blog Carnival: The Giant’s Shoulders. This time featuring an Esoteric Science Special, dedicated to all those esoteric pursuits of superior knowledge; a celebration of all strange, alien, and counterintuitive methods that have been attempted to dissect, read, or tame nature’s secrets, from renaissance natural philosophy to present-day Grand Unified Theories – from the cleverly inventive, through the hopelessly megalomaniac, to the simply misguided.


A bright day for freedom of speech in science

Courtesy of Richard Wiseman

After two years’ struggle, the British Chiropractic Association finally dropped their libel case against science writer Simon Singh. This has been a high profile case in the campaign (which has only just begun!) to reform the UK’s ridiculous libel laws. This is a great step in the right direction. For the man who’s occupied centre stage, the victory will still be a costly one. Singh has spent 200.000 pounds to defend himself in the case, which started after he wrote an article in the Guardian in 2008 criticising the (lacking) scientific basis for chiropractic treatments. Instead of meeting him with arguments and evidence, the BCA attempted to sue the criticism to silence.


Eugenics and Progressive Social Policies in Norway

Jon Alfred Mjøen explaining Mendel's law in Oslo, ca. 1920. (American Philosophical Society, Eugenic Archives)

While I was researching something completely different I came across a note in Science from 1917 that caught my attention. It informed readers about the launching of a state sponsored race hygiene program in Norway, under the leadership of biologist Jon Alfred Mjøen (1860-1939). After reading up a little I started wondering about the relation between Mjøen’s politically quite active laboratory, Vindern Biologisk Laboratorium (VBL; established 1906), and the heritage of Norway’s progressive legislation in areas such as healthcare, public loans, targeted taxation policies, etc, which are still deeply felt today. Could there be a discernible eugenic motivation behind them?


Galison in Utrecht

I just got home from Peter Galison’s first talk as Visiting Professor at Utrecht University. As advertised in a previous post, the lecture focused on the role of secrecy in modern science. Actually, the focus was a lot broader than that. Galison’s interest was to trace what he saw as some significant historical changes in the legitimization and enforcement of secrecy in western societies, roughly from the early 20th century until today. A significant part of his argument was that scientific discourse became subjected to secretive forms of political regulation from WWII onwards.