Sunday, December 12, 2010

Call me Dr X? - an interesting dicussion: should students call me Dr X (esp odd, my surname not being 'X') and I call them by their surname: 'Oi Smith, what is meant by synthetic a priori? eh?'

Or maybe not.

I am kind of used to 'You' and 'Dave' - but the comments via the link really vary: let me quote a couple:

Maybe I’m just cripplingly old-fashioned, but I cringe when I see some of my colleagues insist on having their undergraduate students call them by their first names.


I find anything other than first-name address really awkward, but I think British students tend to gravitate to this as the norm anyway. American visitors on JYA programs tend to be more formal, and even sometimes address me as “sir”, which feels very weird indeed

(our visiting American [BCA] students sometimes do this - I rather like the implication of respect - but they soon learn....]


I’m struck by the number saying they use last name only (if I read it right). In direct address, I find that exceptionally rude, unless the person using it is so close to me that I can take it as jocular. The only situation where I regard it as normal is among school-age boys.

Not sure it ever really feels awkward these days? If I refer to a colleague in a class - I am sure I use their first name. As in: don't ask me, but am sure Roy will know.....

Need a break?

Need a break when reading/studying? Only if you think you do...

Philosophy News reports that: Stanford researchers find that the “need” for study breaks has less to do with our biology and more to do with our beliefs. "If you think of willpower as something that's biologically limited, you're more likely to be tired when you perform a difficult task," said Veronika Job, the paper's lead author. "But if you think of willpower as something that is not easily depleted, you can go on and on." Of course if the mind just is the brain, then the distinction between biologically needing a break and believing that you need one becomes a false distinction. Isn't it?

Full story at 

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Facebook is the address for a new Religion, Philosophy and Ethics at Gloucestershire facebook group - all are welcome to join...


Monday, December 06, 2010

Coffins in Ghana

Last year in RPE301 (as we will in January) we looked at 'death cultures' including coffins in Ghana.

As reports - a new exhibition of these has just opened in London at the Jack Bell gallery...

Thought this might interest some RPE students / blog readers!


Friday, December 03, 2010

FCH Film Society

A new film society for FCH has been launched showing films related to a monthly theme every Monday evening. The theme for December is Conscience and the first screening, the Hitchcock film Rope, will be shown Monday 6th December at 8pm in FCTC001.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lolcat Bible Translation Project

There are many novelty Bible translation projects - the Geordie Bible - the Cockney Bible, the Brick Testament (Lego based) - but a new one on me was the Lolcat Bible...

The peculiar text-msg influenced speech, and an emergent set of stock phrases (based on specific well-known lolcat images from - the main lolcat site), make lolcats seem rather intriguing anyway - but how to do the Bible? First have a Theistic notion (Ceiling Cat) - and go for it:

Boreded Ceiling Cat makinkgz Urf n stuffs
1 Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.
2 Da Urfs no had shapez An haded dark face, An Ceiling Cat rode invisible bike over teh waterz.
3 At start, no has lyte. An Ceiling Cat sayz, i can haz lite? An lite wuz.4 An Ceiling Cat sawed teh lite, to seez stuffs, An splitted teh lite from dark but taht wuz ok cuz kittehs can see in teh dark An not tripz over nethin.5 An Ceiling Cat sayed light Day An dark no Day. It were FURST!!!1

See the whole project at: - they have done loads of work on this...

Esp like: 

But: do the novelty translations reveal new meanings? Anything beyond the fun here?

Kant Attack Ad..

Thought this might entertain some...


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Philosophy at Play

Readers of the RPE blog may be interested in a new blog I am helping organise at  - this is still in development - but is getting there!

One of the key aims is to promote an event on the philosphical aspects of play - details of that are at :


Monday, November 15, 2010

Gloucestershire Philosophical Society Talk: Heidegger

Dr. Will Large, University of Gloucestershire:
'Heidegger and the meaning of History'.

Wed. Nov. 17th. 7.30.p.m. FCH Room HC203

The talk will focus on Heidegger's "Being and Time", and will consider the significance of experience and the pertinence of the history of science in understanding this seminal work.

All Welcome. £2 for Concessions, £3 for others...

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Christmas/Religion (not actually) banned from Stamps...

You can tell Christmas is coming - as I have seem my first 'Christmas banned by political correctness' story: even if it turns out to be wholly false...

Links to past examples of claims about the banning of religion at Christmas can be seen here:
and at:

ho ho ho...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Death of the Emperor

There has been a lot of news coverage over the shooting of the red deer stag known as the Emperor of Exmoor. I have been to Exmoor many times and have seen the hunters out with their guns and, I admit, they represent one aspect of humanity that I am none too impressed with (aside from anything else, they just look ridiculous). But I am curious over the outrage at this shooting which, incidentally, is perfectly legal. The anger is a moral one, and so I am wondering what the moral arguments are here. One newspaper argued that it is wrong because the Emperor is 'wild and beautiful', but is this a good reason to not shoot it? Lots of things are 'wild', and should we really base our preferences on whether we find something beautiful or not? There is certainly no shortage of red deer roaming around Exmoor. Perhaps the standard utilitarian response works here: the pleasure of seeing this animal roaming around alive (not to mention the pleasure of the Emperor itself?) is much greater than that priovided by its antlers danging from the wall of someone's stately home?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New for Christmas: Religion?

This picture was in the Boots Christmas Catalogue.. Ignoring the annoying 'trend expert' nonsense, and not even daring think what the hell 'rockstar edge' means: I was struck by the brand-name - 'Religion'...

What is the thinking behind the use of this word here? I feel vaguely mystified...

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Athlete in a Future of Sport and Technology

Gloucestershire Philosophical Society

Wednesday, 27th. October, 2010, 7.30.p

FCH Room HC203.

Dr. Emily Ryall, of University of Gloucestershire, will give a talk on:

"Beyond Human: Conceptualising the Athlete in a Future of Sport and Technology".

All welcome.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

RPE208 Day-Trip to Oxford

For students on the Indian Religions module:

The plan...

We go to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford ( ) on Friday November 5th.

We will meet on the museum steps, at 12:45.

You can get the bus from Cheltenham – the Swanbrook 853 Service leaves at 11am from Chelt (Royal Wells Bus Station) and gets in around 12.30.

It leaves Oxford to return at 6pm (the Museum shuts at 6 anyway) - from St Giles (Taylorian Institute) - where it drops off on the way in.... (near Ashmolean) Back to Chelt 7:35pm.


A day return costs £10. The museum is free.

A couple of hours in the museum should leave you with time to explore Oxford / shop / eat...

You can of course drive – but I would advise using the park and ride – as Oxford seems to have no public parking left...

Students not on this module can come, but need to let me know..


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Problem of Evil DVD for schools


Just a quick post to note that our popular DVD aimed at schools (particularly those doing GCSE or A Level Religious Studies / Philosophy & Ethics) about the Problem of Evil is now back on sale, at a reduced price - see for details..


Plato and Love

Students across RPE, but especially those on RPE301 (Love, Sex and Death) may be interested in the following talk, offered by Gloucestershire Philosophical Society:

Wed. Nov. 10th 7.30.p.m. FCH Room HC203. Dr.Angie Hobbs, Associate Professor, University of Warwick. 'Plato and Love'.

Dr. Hobbs is one of the country's leading classical philosophers, and has become the U.K's first Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy.

More details on the GPS website at

Our students are very welcome at their meetings..


Meeting re Field Trip to Spain - room/time/etc


If you are interested in coming on the field trip to Cordoba (and Seville) in March 2011, you need to attend the meeting tomorrow:
Thursday 14th October at 12 noon, HC201 (FCH)

if you cannot make the meeting - just send me an email - - and I will register your desire to come on the trip...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

There is no God

Some of you might have heard of the recent brouhaha surrounding Stephen Hawking's announcement that we don't need God any more. I am always surprised how what is taken to be novel and revolutionary has in fact been said before, and countless times before. Didn't Laplace once reply to Napoleon, many years ago, that God was a hypothesis that we no longer required? Has it taken this long to be heard by our newspapers?

Of course this is absurd thought. No it isn't even absurd. It is just plain stupid. Unfortunately, being a physicist does not make one a good philosopher (or a philosopher of any sort), and it is equally unfortunate that Professor Hawking thinks that philosophy is dead (the 'love of wisdom' dead? Who would wish such a thing?), for he might have otherwise actually bothered to read some philosophy.

The scientific idea (and that is what it is) that the universe requires God to exist probably has its origin, at least in our culture, more in Aristotle's Physics, than it does it any religious text. Does Hawking serious think that the first book of Genesis, for example, is meant to be read as a cosmology? (but then since he thinks philosophy is not worth reading, he's not likely to read theology either).

Just as much as we shouldn't trust a creationist's statements on physics, we should not take it for granted that a scientist knows much about anything accept science, and the belief that science knows everything, or that a 'theory of everything' really does contain everything, is precisely that a belief and not a scientific theory at all.

For those of you who want to think (and our students on RPE 201, Religion, Science and Belief might want to) about these issues a bit more, and might even have the slight feeling that philosophy is not quite as dead as Hawking wants it to be, would not be wasting their time in reading this article by Carlin Romano in The Chronicle.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Studying Religion, Philosophy & Ethics at University

This Saturday sees one of our biggest Open Days (info: here), and I will be doing my bit, talking about what it is like to study religious, philosophical and ethical ideas, especially on our course here at University of Gloucestershire...

In discussing what I was planing to say, with a colleague, I was saying that I always get a what's the point? question: often framed in terms of what type of job a degree like this might lead graduates toward, but also - on occasion - in more general terms.. (His response, by the way, was the surely that a student who had studied philosophy, in particular, could do anything - I liked that answer...)

But it got me thinking...

Of course, on one level, I think "what's the point of studying anything else?" - the things we cover seem so vital, so central to what it means to be a human being, that the question is hard to get one's head round...

But: not everyone feels quite the same as we do about the topic - so beyond the intrinsic value of studying RPE, what does it give students? Of course, it gives them lots of analytical and critical skills, the ability to appreciate complex ideas, to deal with conceptually difficult material, to explain exactly what they mean, and to understand and articulate a range of religious notions. It provides them with the confidence to robustly defend points of view, verbally, or in written form, and the ability to revise their points of view as they see fit.

But, and I think this is very much true when I look at, and talk to, our graduates, it seems to make them thoughtful, especially when it comes to matters that impact on other people. By which, I think what I will say at the Open Day tomorrow is that we really strive, in a way that many other disciplines perhaps do not, to make our students better people.
This may seem odd, and we certainly don't tell them what to think (not that they'd listen - they often are rather argumentative and independent-minded [which is a good thing]) - but we do tell them that it is their duty to think; and that the ideas on the course will challenge them to produce an ethical response...

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A J Ayer on YouTube

Now that's proper TV... A J Ayer on Logical Positivism...

While our RPE students may enjoy this - thought that I'd pop on the blog - as this seems even better than X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and Wife Swap all put together...

[Not to mention how odd smoking on TV looks in the clips]

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ayodhya Decision...

The BBC is reporting:

A court in India has said that a disputed holy site in Ayodhya should be split between Hindus and Muslims, lawyers for the Hindu petitioners say.

However in a majority verdict, judges gave control of the main disputed section, where a mosque was torn down in 1992, to Hindus, lawyers said.

Other parts of the site will be controlled by Muslims and a Hindu sect.

You can read the Guardian's 10-year-ago feature on this - with some helpful background, at:

Also see:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

RPE Lecturers in Turin

Dave and I attended the CESNUR 2010 International Conference in Turin on 'Changing Gods: Between Religion and Everyday Life' from 9-11 September.  Apart from wine and pizza we heard papers on New Religious Movements from some of the leading scholars in the field, rubbed shoulders with practising Mormon, Unification Church and Family (Children of God) members and learned all about vampires and spiritual therianthropy.  Dave and I will be sharing more of our adventures in due course.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Examined Life


For any new RPE students struggling to find resources for the Induction Project - see where you can access a fair few reviews f of the film.

The trailer is below, and can help you track down info on the individual thinker you have chosen for the presentation; although not all are there - but Cornel West is on twitter ( ), and I am sure you can use that google-thing...


Sunday, September 19, 2010


So - another year...

A big welcome back to all existing RPE students, and an equally excessive welcome to all our new Religion, Philosophy & Ethics students. We will be seeing you all week - but do browse these blog archives to get more of a sense of the course.

The presentation below gives details about the opportunities for travel, that I mentioned during the main Humanities Induction talk... (press the 'play' button > )

contact me on for more details...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Philosophy in the city (and village)

Famous Liverpool Sophists

Those misguided amongst you who thought Athens was the birthplace of philosophy are wrong: it was Liverpool (remember Plato's Cavern?), and to celebrate this fact there is a two-week Philosophy in the City festival which will bring many leading philosophers to a number of cultural centres in Liverpool. It starts on 10th October. If you're looking for something a little more local then the birthplace of Hobbes, the Cotswold village of Malmesbury, has its Thomas Hobbes Festival of Ideas from 14th-16th October. And, if you really want to be even more local than that, the Cheltenham Literature Festival (8th - 17th October) has a number of philosophical, or philosophically-related, talks.

So plenty of things going on in October!


I noticed at that:

"An ice cream company banned from using an advert displaying a pregnant nun has vowed to position similar posters in London in time for the Pope's visit.

Antonio Federici's advert showed a pregnant nun eating ice cream in a church, together with the strap line "immaculately conceived".

The Advertising Standards Authority has ordered it to be discontinued, saying it mocked Roman Catholic beliefs."

I have reproduced the image here: is this really offensive?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Flickr updates

Just a quick note: have finally begun to add some stuff to the RPE Flickr page (see widget to the right) - or - hope to add some more soon...

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Politics of Health Care

I read this article a few weeks ago now from the New Yorker and was both moved and impressed by it. Its content is very powerful, and if you are disturbed by stories of the dying, then I wouldn't suggest you read it, but if you do have the courage and the time (it isn't short), then I would really recommend you do.

What struck me when I was reading it were two very powerful ideas. One is that all of us try and escape in our lives the inevitable fact we are going to die, and this is the one event that none of us can avoid. Yet, precisely because we run away from it, we never think about it. We have lost, as the writer of the article says, the art of dying, which is, as the classical philosophers knew, is just as important as living, and indeed might be the secret, paradoxically, of life itself. The second idea is that we spend all this money in the health service in the West to escape the inevitability of death even though we do not know how to die, whereas in the rest of the world the majority of the human race are dying of diseases that are perhaps curable. To me this is a much more serious question than philosophers normally talk about when discussing the ethics of dying. I am not really interested in the endless debates about whether euthanasia is good or a bad thing (if you were to push me in a corner, then I would probably agree with voluntary euthanasia, but I am aware of the problems with that as well), but how health care in the West eats up the resources of our planet just to keep us alive for another couple of months.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bullfighting banned in Catalonia...

So here we have a clear contrast between claims for cultural value, and claims of universal animal rights... - how do we disentangle them?

Fox news (!) has a view HERE and the usual BBC Have Your Say crowd are HERE

More detail is HERE

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Philosophy Society - July

The next meeting for the philosophy reading group will be Thursday, 1st July at 6pm. As always we will meet at 5.55pm at the entrance to the SU Bar at Park Campus. Paul Caddle is leading the meeting and will be presenting a paper entitled 'What actually is Buddhism?' The discussion does not require any preparatory reading other than a hand-out which will be distributed on the night. So there is not a reason not to come (not even World Cup because we finish at 7.30pm). I look forward to a highly attended and high-spirted discussion.


Metal Madnness...

Heavy Fundametalisms: Can I Play with Madness? Metal, Dissonance, Madness and Alienation

8 to 10 November 2010
Prague, Czech Republic

Now THAT is a conference topic!

Wish I could go...
Would like to do something on NWOBHM, but not sure there's an audience for my paper on Tygers of Pan Tang...

for more on Philosophy and Popular Culture


Monday, June 14, 2010

The Severn Forum Annual Lecture

Wednesday 16 June, 7.45pm

Is turning off the aid to poor countries the right Christian response?

Revd Professor Michael Taylor
Emeritus Professor of Social Theology,
University of Birmingham

Main Lecture Theatre, The Park Campus,
University of Gloucestershire
£3 to the public. Free to members and students

Contact: Patricia Downes ( )

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Philosophy Society

Dr. Emily Ryall from Oxstalls Campus is giving a paper and opening a discussion for the reading group on Thursday, 3rd June. The abstract and reading links are posted below. Remember we are now meeting at the earlier time of 6pm, so meet outside the SU Bar at Park Campus at 5.55pm. The Gallery Room is now closed for the summer and I am still awaiting the booking for a seminar room. I am unable to come tomorrow evening but you will be under the excellent charge of Emily. Is anybody willing to collect the key from security? If somebody could volunteer for this small but important detail, please let me know.


Being-for-oneself and being-for-others in sport: An existentialist critique.

I have argued in a previous paper (Ryall 2008) that sport seems to provide an area whereby the nature of being is intensely illuminated; for we are always aware that it is something that is voluntarily engaged in and has no meaning beyond that which we give it. In addition to this, the nature of sport provides a stage upon which the free choices we make are wholly visible both to ourselves and to others, and the emotions of pride and shame, contempt and respect (of varying degrees) are common. Such emotions, according to Sartre, demonstrate the on-going battle between ourselves and others to be authentic and in good-faith, and not fall foul of self deception nor the reduction of oneself by another to a mere object. As such, this paper will attempt to apply some existentialist (mainly Sartrean)ideas regarding authenticity and good-faith to the world of sport, and will consider whether Sartre’s notion of ‘the look’ exposes the problem of these emotions and the way we view ourselves and others in sport.

For my previous, 2008, paper on the nature of being a substitute in sport see: HERE
For an earlier draft of the paper being presented see: HERE

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Research Seminar - Metaphysical Sporting Value

Research Seminar (all welcome)

Tuesday 1st June


Oxstalls TC217

Metaphysical Sporting Value – Carl Thomen

Why do you play sport? Is it to compete and to win, or is there something more to it than that? Did you know that sport can:

(i) Be a source of self-affirmation?[1]

(ii) Reveal the extent to which humans can truly be said to be free and responsible?[2]

(iii) Be beautiful in its promotion of a greater harmony and balance in one’s life?[3]

[1] There will be no mention here of the type of self-motivating confidence speak you would see on a Tony Robbins Show (“You can do it! You are a special little flower ready to bloom blah blah blah”). This I promise.

2 Woohoo! You are not a slave to the deterministic force of physical causality! (This thought may cause you to want to get drunk in celebration. I am willing to overlook this cause and effect relationship)

3 No Buddhist monks (and probably only three of four hippies) will be hurt during this presentation

[1] There will be no mention here of the type of self-motivating confidence speak you would see on a Tony Robbins Show (“You can do it! You are a special little flower ready to bloom blah blah blah”). This I promise.

[2] Woohoo! You are not a slave to the deterministic force of physical causality! (This thought may cause you to want to get drunk in celebration. I am willing to overlook this cause and effect relationship)

[3] No Buddhist monks (and probably only three of four hippies) will be hurt during this presentation.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Gloucestershire Philosophical Society:

Wednesday, May 12th. 2010, 7.30.p.m. FCH, Room HC203.

(Cheltenham, University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road)

Dr. Jane Monkton-Smith, University of Gloucestershire, will talk on:

"Narratives of Sex, Death and Gender".

Based on her recently published book, Jane applies the methodology of French philosopher Michel Foucault to better understand the practices of rape and murder.

All welcome.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Philosophy Society - May Meeting

We will be meeting the second Thursday, 13th, of May in a room yet to be confirmed at Park Campus. Please note that we will start at 6pm and end at 7.30pm. Instead of reading a text this month we will be watching one. The film is Code Unknown. If you are unable to source the film you can buy a used copy from amazon for a 5ver. Alternatively, I can post you my film once I've watched it. You may even be able to find it in Blockbusters or a local library.

Here is a description of the film:
"Code Inconnu takes the unknown and transforms it into the familiar. Just as in reality the characters exist and their personal story lines remain unfinished. In life we exist without permanent structure and our lives are only completed by death. Michael Haneke is telling us that 117 minutes can never encompass an entire life."

Let me know if you need some help finding the film. My email is:


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Philosopher's Football Match

A re-enactment of the Monty Python philosopher's football match is taking place on Sunday May 9th at West Finchley, North London and will see the Greeks take on the Germans. The players will include many notable philosophers, comedians, ex-sports players and journalists, including AC Grayling (German manager), Graham Taylor (Greek manager), Julian Baggini, Tony Hawks, and Nigel Warburton (referree)... oh, and my less notable self (centre midfield for the Germans!).

It is the idea of the Philosophy Shop which aims to bring philosophy to school children and highlight the importance of philosophical and critical thinking.

For tickets and more information, please visit:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Philosophy for Children

Anna Saunders will give a talk on:

Philosophy for Children (P4C)

Wednesday 21st April at 4pm
All Welcome

PHILOSOPHY FOR CHILDREN, or P4C for short, was the title Professor Matthew Lipman gave to his project of using the discipline of philosophy as a resource to help children become more intellectually energetic, curious, critical, creative and reasonable. He conceived the project in the late sixties when he was teaching philosophy at Columbia University, and, today, it is a worldwide educational movement. He decided to devote himself to making the resources of philosophy accessible to children through thoughtful dialogue stimulated by the sharing of literature. He was inspired by writers of dialogues such as Plato and Diderot (and by the Charlie Brown cartoons!) to create philosophical dialogues in which reasoning, questioning and conceptual exploration were revealed to be important in the lives of a group of pupils, friends and teachers. Now Philosophy for Children is practiced in more than thirty countries around the world using a wide variety of materials to instigate questioning and inquiry.

Though the materials vary, the basic model of the community of inquiry and the methods Lipman introduced have remained remarkably robust and popular with teachers and pupils alike.

Anna Saunders teaches Religious Studies at Bournside School in Cheltenham.

The talk will be of a general nature and so this should not only appeal to those interested in teaching Religious Studies/Philosophy in schools, but also for parents and for anyone interested in teaching more generally

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Trouble in the Cordoba Mezquita

I read at that visiting Muslims were not allowed to pray in the Mezquita, now the Cathedral, in Cordoba - where we were just a few weeks ago.

The report has the Catholic church noting, as it is keen to in the leaflet you get on entry, the pre-Muslim religious use of the site - although that building was on much smaller scale than the huge Mosque that was to come.

The Bishop repeated the standard line, which is given every year when Muslims write and ask to be allowed to pray in the building: "The shared use of the cathedral by Catholics and Muslims would not contribute to the peaceful coexistence of the two beliefs"

Thursday, April 01, 2010

RPE136 - Cordoba Trip 2010

This year’s Religion, Philosophy and Ethics module, Overseas Study Visit saw a lively group of students head out from a damp Gloucestershire to the Spanish sun...
This module (RPE136) is designed to offer students the opportunity to experience an extended visit in the company of other students to a city or area of historic significance in the study of Christianity and/or other religions. The essence of this full module is a five night and five day study tour of an historic location, such as Rome, Jerusalem or Turkey. For the past two years, our destination has been Cordoba.
After a more eventful journey than planned, we arrived at
Los Patios once more – for a busier year than last time. We began with our usual orientation tour, and the Museo Vivo de Al-Andalus / Torre de la Calahorra. The wireless-headphone tour ends on the roof, and with a view of the Roman Bridge and Mezquita. After this we headed off for the walk to the Archaeological Museum – with its Roman and other materials – maybe by next year the English-language labels will finally be in place... The day ended with a quiet drink in the Plaza Corredera.

This was the day when we met up with Imma (our tour guide from last year), who showed us round the Jewish Quarter (and the only remaining synagogue) , the Old Town and
Mezquita – with a commentary to contrast with the info you get from the Catholic Church leaflet that you are give on entry. In many ways, the Mezquita is the highlight of the trip – and at the end of the tour, students are left in the building to stay as long as they wish.

We spent the morning at the
Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos in Cordoba – which has a history of the site, as well as spectacular formal gardens.

The afternoon was spent wandering the Old Town and (in an addition to last year) at the Museum of Jewish life ( ).

Sunday was a day off, and the staff investigated the
Madinat al-Zahra site – as a possible addition for next year. This ruined Islamic city has a new museum, which we checked out – and which is very hi-tech, but also gives a fantastic introduction to the region.

Students explored – one rented a bike (we ran into him at Madinat al-Zahra), some went walking, and others pottered about the Old Town (there are
loads of museums in Cordoba – so lots to explore).

This was the day-trip to Seville. After an early walk, the
Avant train sped us to Seville.
Following last year’s geographical challenges, we found our way with more ease – and headed to the astounding site of the Alcázares Reales de Sevilla – in which you could lose days (and indeed students, but most seem to have come back); and then there is – next door – the huge, towering Seville Cathedral, a gothic immensity almost totally obliterating traces of a mosque on the site.

Travel home... Down to Malaga by train this time – but all went smoothly – and we now just await the student assessments!

Thanks to all the students who came for making it an exciting and memorable trip...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Philosophy Society

Last month Paul Caddle ran the meeting on the topic of the philosophy of Bishop Berkeley. Unfortunately I posted a web-link for the reading which is a 74-page piece of writing by Berkeley. Paul had attached a small section of the reading (two pages) on a word document which I failed to see. I apologise if the daunting amount of reading made members shy away from the meeting. We had a healthy turn-out though, with or without a correct reading link. As you all know Berkeley reasoned the existence of God from the empirical evidence of objects existing despite an absence of human perception. To Berkeley, the perception of God locates objects in time and space. Here are the limericks Ronald Knox wrote on behalf of Berkeley's idea:

There was a young man who said God,
must find it exceedingly odd
when he finds that the tree
continues to be
when noone's about in the Quad

Dear Sir, your astonishment's odd
I'm always about in the Quad
And that's why the tree
continues to be
Since observed by, yours faithfully, God

The April meeting will be held on 8th April. I am awaiting an email from Park to confirm which room we will be allocated for the evening. We will meet at 7pm outside the SU Bar and venture to the room together. We will discuss the Philosophy of History and the reading is (eight pages) by Walter Benjamin:

Look forward to having an invigorating discussion.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Religion, Philosophy and Ethics Research Seminar

Dr. David Webster on 'Western Buddhism: The Challenge of Authenticity'

5.00 pm Thursday 25th March
Francis Close Hall, room TC006b

All Welcome!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Philosophers in the Movies

I noticed our local cinema is showing The Last Station which is about the last year of Leo Tolstoy's life. Tolstoy is played by Christopher Plummer and his wife is played by Helen Mirren. The names of these two actors got me thinkng about philosophers portrayed in movies: Plummer, of course, played Aristotle in the film Alexander, and Mirren played Ayn Rand in The Passion of Ayn Rand. But I must admit I'm struggling to come up with many philosophers who have featured on the big screen. There is Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein of course, and Nietzsche has made an appearance in a coupe of obscure movies such as When Nietzsche Wept and Liliana Cavani's Beyond Good and Evil. I recall one director recently stating that he would like to make a movie about Socrates, but it actually surprises me that there isn't one already (or is there?). Given how colourful the lives of philosophers can be (with the notable exception of Kant: that would be a very dull movie indeed!) I'm surprised I'm struggling to recall many films of them. Also, who would make the best philosopher to make a film of, and who would have the starrring role? Brad Pitt as a hunky Socrates (well, you had Keanu Reeves as that Buddha dude), or Ricky Tomlinson as Zizek?

And see for yet more comments...

RPE Research Seminar on Thursday 25th February

Dr Alan Kirby will be giving a talk on 'The Arguable Death of Postmodernism, and Beyond?' at Francis Close Hall, room TC006b on Thursday 25th February at 5.30. All welcome.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sufism in Britain - Conference

Tuesday 13 April 2010; University of Gloucestershire
Tiered Lecture Theatre, FCH Campus,
Swindon Road, Cheltenham

Sufism is a movement in Islam that has contributed immensely to its expansion, especially in the non-Arab regions of the world. The mystical movement in Islam is noted for its diversity, its eclecticism, and its dynamism. This conference explores the nature of Sufism in the United Kingdom and its relationship with other Islamic strands and ideologies in this country.


10.15 – 10.45 Registration and Coffee

10.45 Welcome: Prof. Patricia Broadfoot, Vice Chancellor/Dr Shelley Saguaro, Head of Department of Humanities, University of Gloucestershire

10.50 – 11.35 Rt. Rev. Prof. Kenneth Cragg (Oxford), Factors in the Development of Islamic Sufism

11.40 – 12.25 Dr Muhammad Seddon (University of Chester)
Shaykh Abdullah Ali al-Hakimi, The Alawi Tariqah and British Yemenis

12.35 – 1.10 Sadek Hamid (University of Chester)),
The Rise of the Traditional Islam Scene; Neo-Sufism and British Muslim Youth

1.10 – 2.00 Lunch

2.05 – 2.50 Sariya Contractor (University of Gloucestershire)
Online Sufism – Young British Muslims, their internet ‘selves’ and virtual reality
Dr Ian Draper (University of Birmingham)
Cyberspace as Tariqua space - Wird (Qur’anic verses) and Wazifas (Divine names and attributes) Online among the Haqqaniyya and the Qadiri-Budshishiyaa Sufi Orders.

3.00 – 3.45 Dr Theodore Gabriel (University of Gloucestershire)
Expressions of Spirituality in Islam - unity and diversity in Sufi thought and practice

3.45 Vote of thanks: Dr Theodore Gabriel / Tea

FEES: £16 (£8 for students and the unwaged; £5.00 for students of University of Gloucestershire). Tea/Coffee will be served morning and afternoon.

A sandwich lunch (to include sandwiches, crisps, cookies, fruit and coffee/tea) will be available if ordered when your booking is made. The cost for this is £5.50 and should be sent with your conference fee.


Rt. Rev. Prof. Kenneth Cragg is Assistant Bishop of Oxford, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, and an author who has published prodigiously on the theme of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations. He is the author of The Call of the Minaret; The Wisdom of the Sufis, Counsels in Contemporary Islam, and Muhammad and the Christian among numerous other volumes.

Dr Mohammad Siddique Seddon obtained his PhD in Religious Studies at University of Lancaster and is currently Director of the Centre for Applied Muslim Youth and Community Studies (CAMYCS), Lecturer in Muslim Studies and Honorary Research Fellow at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Chester. His research interests are historical and contemporary issues relating to Islam and British Muslim communities. He has published a number of related works and books including, British Muslims: Loyalty and Belonging, (2003), British Muslims, Between Assimilation and Segregation: Historical, Legal & Social Realities, (2004), and, The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Islam (2009).

Sadek Hamid is Lecturer in Muslim Youth work in the University of Chester. His research interests are in young British Muslims and religious activism, exploring the contemporary impact of different Islamic youth movements who were at the forefront of efforts to promote religious revival upon second and third generation Muslim communities in the UK He is the author of “Islamic Political Radical Radicalism in Britain: The Case of Hizb-ut Tahrir” in Islamic Political Radicalism: A European Comparative, Edinburgh University Press, 2007. and "The Attraction of Authentic Islam: Salafism and British Muslim Youth” in Salafism: A Global Movement, Hurst. London. 2009.

Sariya Contractor is a doctoral student in the Department of Education, University of Gloucestershire, and author of Is humility the essence of greatness? an article on Prophet Muhammad, and Hijab Empowering Women. Her doctoral research is on ‘Muslim Women in Multicultural Britain: Exploring the Inter-play between Islam, Ethnic Culture and Integration’.

Dr Ian Draper is lecturer in Islam and Contemporary Religion at University of Birmingham. He has worked as a youth and community worker among Muslim communities in Birmingham and as principal researcher in a project on transnational Sufism. His research interests are in Sufism in cyber space and the use of talismans among Sufi pirs in the United Kingdom. He is the author of “Transnational Sufism: the Haqqaniyya” in Sufism in the West (London, 2006) and “From Celts to Kaaba: Sufism in Glastonbury' in Living Sufism in Europe and North America (London: Curzon RKP, 2004)

Dr Theodore Gabriel is an Honorary Research Fellow in Religious Studies in the Department of Humanities at the University of Goucestershire and was formerly Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education. He is the author of numerous volumes on Islam, the most recent being Christian Citizens in an Islamic State: The Pakistan Experience. He is Co-Editor of the forthcoming volume of essays Islam and the Veil, Continuum Books.

To attend, please contact:

Mrs P Downes, Department of Humanities, University of Gloucestershire
Francis Close Hall, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ
Enquiries: Telephone: 01242 714570 Fax: 01242 714826
Email: or

Or book on line (Events) at