Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

The WomanStats Blog & Female Priests

The project I work for at BYU, WomanStats, has had a bit of a hiccup recently. After starting a blog using Wordpress, we found that the servers used to host the website (and, thus, blog) needed to be updated to support the new version Wordpress. This wouldn't have been a problem except for the fact that our CSR (Computer Support Rep) accidentally dumped our last recorded backup onto the server before reformatting it instead of backing up our most recent work; this all ended in us losing the last 6 months of our data as well as all of our previous blogposts.

Tragic as this was, we continue only slightly deterred and perhaps even more determined. However, I lost several blogposts that I had done on that blog and as such will now be posting my WomanStats discoveries here, as backup.

From time to time when coding, we discover things that make us smile instead of frown. Such was my experience when reading this article about female Hindu priests in Pune, India. Pune is already renowned as a progressive city in India; the article cites the fact that Pune led the way in encouraging and enabling girls to get an education, as well as allowing widow remarriage (which is typically frowned on by traditional Hindu culture). Another article notes that Pune had also been supportive of family planning as early as the late 1800s. Again, Pune leads the way in this "revolution" of culture. Vishwanath Gurjar, head of the priesthood division of an educational institution in the area, says that "women have an equal right to "moksha," the Hindu concept of the liberation of the soul from the continual cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. According to him, there is nothing in the scriptures to suggest that women are not equal to men." Although not expressly forbidden by Hinduism, women have typically not worked as pandits (priests) and the movement has met with some resistance.

The movement towards female pandits began, according to the article, with Shankarrao Thatte (owner of a major marriage hall in the city) starting a training school for women called the Shankar Seva Samiti. Both articles cite the prior "lackadaisical" approach of male priests toward their priestly duties, which included performing several rituals (or puja) in homes. Clients complained that male priests were late, rushed through the ceremonies, and were unwilling to explain the rituals or field questions during or after its performance. Women priests, on the other hand, while still working towards universal acceptance, have been growing in favor by those willing to hire them to perform these rituals. They are reportedly more punctual and willing to explain the meaning of the rituals and as such are often preferred to their male counterparts.

One area, however, where male priests still dominate are with regards to death rituals. This, too has recently become an area of greater debate. In the words of the BusinessLine article:
Gulabbai Tripathi was only 11 when she conducted her first funeral and death rites at the death of her father. She died in 2005, at the ripe old age of 86.

For 70-odd years, she was in charge of a crematorium in Allahabad, which she made her home. Marathi writer Mangala Athlekar even penned a book based on her life titled `Gargi'.

Says Athlekar, "When I got to know her, I realised that we — women in cities — only talk about women's liberation in our ivory towers. Gulabbai may not have known the jargon of women's rights, but she put this `liberation' into action.

"Just as, in Vedic times, Gargi boldly questioned the intellect of Yajnavalkya in a Brahmin gathering, Gulabbai questioned the Brahmin gurus of our era.

"Why can a woman not undertake last rites, she asked. She built her own ghat on the banks of the Ganga and served society for 70 years."

While the issue of women priests is likely still a rather controversial subject in terms of potential conflict if male priests were to feel challenged in their roles, there was one point in particular made by the eNews article that could be universally applicable. Gurjar, quoted earlier about male-female equality in the scriptures, also said that "[i]t is only the mindset of people that stops them from accepting women in certain roles." This, I believe, is true of many women's issues domestically and internationally. And so, we at WomanStats endeavor to spread awareness of women's issues as well as propose new possibilities in order to enable society and the mindset of the populous to change accordingly.

[photographs are from eNews and BusinessLine, respectively].

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Choose Civility - large and small scale

So, I've been at home now for a few days and I've noticed cars around the area touting "choose civility" bumper sticker, not unlike this:

Being a naturally curious person, I decided to do some looking into these rather unusual what ended up being magnets.

The movement is a result of research done by Dr. Forni. Essentially, he did research in '98 (probably for years before then, but it was published in '98) that showed that if a small number of people act "civilly" than there is a large positive impact on the surrounding community. Ding! Several communities (including Baltimore) had the idea to start "choose civility" movements. Cool. It's interesting to me that civility is a lost art to many people - so much so that our Dr. Forni himself has written two books, Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct and (perhaps more appropriate for some of my friends/readers who are already extremely civil) The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude.

It is in light of this idea that I pass along what I considered to be connected words targeted at the British but spoken by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rebroadcast tonight. It is a bit on the longish side for a blog post, but it's worth it. Here it is, taken from the Guardian's website:

"In the Name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful.

"Upon the anniversary of the birth of Jesus, Son of Mary, the Word of God, the Messenger of mercy, I would like to congratulate the followers of Abrahamic faiths, especially the followers of Jesus Christ, and the people of Britain.

"The Almighty created the universe for human beings and human beings for Himself.

"He created every human being with the ability to reach the heights of perfection. He called on man to make every effort to live a good life in this world and to work to achieve his everlasting life.

"On this difficult and challenging journey of man from dust to the divine, He did not leave humanity to its own devices. He chose from those He created the most excellent as His Prophets to guide humanity.

"All Prophets called for the worship of God, for love and brotherhood, for the establishment of justice and for love in human society. Jesus, the Son of Mary, is the standard-bearer of justice, of love for our fellow human beings, of the fight against tyranny, discrimination and injustice.

"All the problems that have bedevilled humanity throughout the ages came about because humanity followed an evil path and disregarded the message of the Prophets.

"Now as human society faces a myriad of problems and a succession of complex crises, the root causes can be found in humanity's rejection of that message, in particular the indifference of some governments and powers towards the teachings of the divine Prophets, especially those of Jesus Christ.

"The crises in society, the family, morality, politics, security and the economy which have made life hard for humanity and continue to put great pressure on all nations have come about because the Prophets have been forgotten, the Almighty has been forgotten and some leaders are estranged from God.

"If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly He would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers.

"If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly He would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over.

"If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly He would fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems, as He did in His lifetime.

"The solution to today's problems is a return to the call of the divine Prophets. The solution to these crises is to follow the Prophets - they were sent by the Almighty for the good of humanity.

"Today, the general will of nations is calling for fundamental change. This is now taking place. Demands for change, demands for transformation, demands for a return to human values are fast becoming the foremost demands of the nations of the world.

"The response to these demands must be real and true. The prerequisite to this change is a change in goals, intentions and directions. If tyrannical goals are repackaged in an attractive and deceptive package and imposed on nations again, the people, awakened, will stand up against them.

"Fortunately, today, as crises and despair multiply, a wave of hope is gathering momentum. Hope for a brighter future and hope for the establishment of justice, hope for real peace, hope for finding virtuous and pious rulers who love the people and want to serve them – and this is what the Almighty has promised.

"We believe Jesus Christ will return, together with one of the children of the revered Messenger of Islam and will lead the world to love, brotherhood and justice.

"The responsibility of all followers of Christ and Abrahamic faiths is to prepare the way for the fulfilment of this divine promise and the arrival of that joyful, shining and wonderful age.

"I hope that the collective will of nations will unite in the not too distant future and with the grace of the Almighty Lord, that shining age will come to rule the earth.

"Once again, I congratulate one and all on the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. I pray for the New Year to be a year of happiness, prosperity, peace and brotherhood for humanity. I wish you every success and happiness."

I feel quite hopeful for the years ahead. Perhaps President Hinckley was on to something in his continual support of optimism despite his awareness of current issues (he read numerous newspapers front-to-back daily). I think so.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Winter Solstice!

As we returned home from today's Christmas service, my father asked us over lunch what was special about today. "Winter Solstice!" I exclaimed, at the same time as another who guessed "Ides of March!"

I get extremely excited for winter solstice every year for many reasons, not the least of which is my love for a dear pagan friend who celebrates it... dare I say?... religiously. Also, it marks the longest night or the shortest day of the year, which means that its passing means the passing of the darkest hour (quite literally) for those who suffer from SAD (whoever named Seasonal Affective Disorder had a sense of humor). Personally, I prefer long days and short nights. Anyhew, I think it's interesting that we celebrate Christmas more or less on top of winter solstice despite the fact that Christ was probably born in April, nearer to Easter. In fact, winter solstice became Christmas with the "civilizing" of Europe and they were around the same day until Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar (what? yes.) moving the solstice up to the 21st-ish. Poor pagans, we totally hijacked your holiday. And then commercialized it. Honestly, what is the deal with santa? Another topic for another post.

Just for kicks, I've done some not-so-extensive research on the original and Christian symbolism of Christmas, and come to some interesting information. Most people have at least heard that the Christmas tree has pagan origins (they were sometimes worshipped or, in the case of Evergreens, brought indoors as a reminder during winter months that life would again return in the spring), but how bout that yule log? Apparently yule has roots in a word meaning wheel and used to signify the sun - yule logs used to be burned to worship the sun goddess. My personal favorite is mistletoe, which was a mystical plant because it springs up seemingly out of nowhere in the branch-pits of trees; it was traditionally believed that they brought fertility, hence the kissing under the mistletoe business. Neato.

Anyway, call it whatever you like, I'm a fan of the celebrations that go on this time of year and how they foster a feeling of love, hope, renewal, and goodwill (as well as a chance to totally geek out on photo stuff with my dad). Happy holidays!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Finals are over! Free at last!

Dear blog readers,

I know that you have been missing my quick wit, web-scavenging, and eloquent yet condensed commentary on life as we know it. Fear not! Winter break is here. And that means lots and lots of blogging, both here and over on my photo blog. Consider this your personal invitation to comment, refute, extol, whatever. Yes. Yours.

I'm flying home in a couple of hours so I need to get my life in line, but here's something many of you may or may not have come across. First of all, a blog. This blog is the only blog that can make me laugh out loud on a consistent basis. Nearly every blogpost is packed with squeak/snort/pantspee-ing humor. And they called it... Cake Wrecks.

I have to direct you to this particular post. Watch the film clip, and look carefully for the movement accompanying "and little arms." Repeat. Wear Depends.

And that, dear friends, loved ones, compatriots, patriots, anarchists, lovers, is all for today. But check back often for updates.