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

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Philosophy Society: February Meeting

The Philosophy Society reading group is meeting tomorrow evening, Thursday, 11th February, 7pm in The Gallery Room above the SU Bar at Park Campus. The set reading is a few words from Roland Barthes in the form of excerpts from his book Mythologies. The reading is very short: if you haven't read it already there is still plenty of time to do so. The link is below.

If you have any questions please contact me using this email address:

I look forward to seeing all of you and having a vigorous discussion.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

A Day To Remember...

'How happy is the blameless Vestal's lot!

The world forgetting, by the world forgot;

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd'

(Alexander Pope, Eloisa and Abelard)

Yesterday I took a class on Kafka's Metamorphosis. For those who don't know the story, it is about a salesman, Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning to discover he has turned into an insect. We discussed, amongst other things, the importance of identity and how this is bound up in things, such as items that have a particular connection to oneself, for Gregor was distressed that the furniture from his room was being removed: even though this meant that, as an insect, it gave him greater physical freedom, it also meant it removed much of his humanity; the physical memories of his life previous to being an insect.

The same day, a small group watched Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind as part of the Philosophy and Film series. It gave us an opportunity to reflect once more on memory: if it were indeed possible to erase unhappy memories then why wouldn't you? Also, would such an erasure really make any fundamental difference as to what constitutes you? Is it our memories that makes us what we are?

That evening, I returned to my apartment and turned on the TV to watch a new series called Caprica. The 'functionalist' premise here is that, with such advanced technology, it would be possible to collect together all the public memories of one individual and create a copy of that person. Think about it: only one hundred years ago a person who has died would have left very little physical memory; a journal perhaps, some photos maybe, letters, a birth certificate,public records, a skeleton...But someone born today will leave behind vast megabytes of 'data', a digital memory of themselves, stored on hard drives, databases, photos, videos, text messages, emails, social networking sites, YouTube, hospital records (brain scans, x-rays), blogs...But even if you did collate this all together into some 'avatar' would this really be anything remotely like the original? Are we not made of more than our public, third-person memories? What of the 'what's-it-likeness'. of qualia, of...dare I say it...soul?

...Another day in the life of a philosopher...

Monday, February 01, 2010

RPE Day Trip

As part of our ongoing mission to enrich your minds (see the Film series on Ning for current students), we are planning an RPE Day Out…

The plan is to visit the newly refurbished and reopened Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. ( )

There is some great material there – esp on Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, but also a range of other things of interest to RPE students – we hope you will make the effort to join the staff and explore the museum.

Students - details have been sent out via Ning...