Showing 151 - 160 of 374 annotations tagged with the keyword "Religion"

Mr. Darwin's Shooter

MacDonald, Roger

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel recounts the fictional life of Syms Covington, an historical character who was Charles Darwin's servant during the voyage of the Beagle (1831-1836) and for two years thereafter in England. Covington then moved to New South Wales, but remained in correspondence with Darwin for the rest of his life. (He died in February 1861.)

MacDonald expands on these facts to create the engrossing story of an "elderly" Covington--he would have been in his mid-40's at the time--who befriends a young American physician in New South Wales. Covington develops appendicitis and MacCracken, the young doctor, saves his life. They become friends and during the next two years Covington gradually reveals his story.

The book flashes back to the voyage of the Beagle and reveals the development of Covington's prickly but worshipful relationship with Darwin. In 1860 Covington, who has become a wealthy landowner in New South Wales, anxiously awaits his copy of The Origin of Species. After enduring the agony and adventure, after studying thousands and thousands of specimens, how will Darwin bring it all together? The theory of evolution rocks Covington to the core. Has his work played a part in helping Darwin to develop this godless theory?

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

Brigid's Charge, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Virginia, has devoted his long career (37 years) to amassing and analyzing empirical evidence for reincarnation. In this book the journalist Tom Shroder describes Dr. Stevenson's work and gives a fascinating account of Stevenson's most recent field investigations in Lebanon and India.

The primary data supporting reincarnation are accounts of previous lives spontaneously reported by young children. This phenomenon is relatively common in cultures that accept reincarnation; for example, the Hindu and Druze peoples. In some cases the accuracy of details from reported past lives can be verified, even though there is also good evidence that the child (or anyone in his family or network of contacts) had no "external" way of learning the information.

Stevenson began studying such cases in the early 1960s and gradually developed a rigorous methodology for assessing and classifying the data. In Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation and his other writings, Stevenson has presented hundreds of narratives, many of which seem prima facie convincing, except for the small problem that they fall completely outside the bounds of scientific orthodoxy.

As a participant observer, Shroder tells a sympathetic, yet questioning, story of Stevenson's investigation (or follow up) of a few recent cases. In the process, he presents a compelling portrait of the maverick 80-year-old psychiatrist.

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The Heart of Redness

Mda, Zakes

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In the mid-19th Century, a teenage prophetess named Nongqawuse preached salvation for the Xhosa people. If the people would slaughter all of their cattle and burn all of their crops, the spirits of their ancestors would rise and drive their oppressors (the English colonizers) into the sea. The ancestors would also resurrect the cattle and restore the crops. A large percentage of the Xhosa ("Believers") adopted this new religion, destroyed their livelihood, and initiated many years of disease and starvation. The Xhosa nation might well have been wiped out, but for the fact that some of the people ("Unbelievers") rejected these prophecies and did not destroy their crops and cattle.

These historical events serve as the cornerstone of The Heart of Redness, which presents two intertwined fictional narratives: one that occurs in the time of Nongqawuse and a second narrative that takes place in Qolorha, a Xhosa village in present-day South Africa. In the novel the conflict between Believers and Unbelievers has persisted through the "Middle Generations" and continues to the present. Believers claim that the prophecies of Nongqawuse would have come true, if only all of the Xhosa people had destroyed their farms and cattle. The ancestors failed to return because of the unbelief of a portion of the people.

Unbelievers argue that the folly of the original Believers led to decades of suffering and a strengthening of the English colonizers. This traditional conflict is reflected today in their attitudes toward economic development. Developers want to build a large casino and resort complex near the village. Unbelievers support the proposal because it will bring jobs and money to the region. Believers are dead set against the proposal because it will destroy their way of life.

Meanwhile, Camagu, who has a Ph.D. in economic development and who returned from exile in 1994 to help build the new South Africa, has moldered for years in Johannesburg, unable to find a job appropriate to his skills. When he meets a young woman who says she is returning home to Qolorha, he spontaneously follows her there. Camagu decides to remain in the village and, against his will, becomes embroiled in the battle between Believers and Unbelievers, as well as love affairs with two women, one from each side of the conflict.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Hurston's powerful, lyric second novel centers on Janie Crawford, an African-American woman who tells her life story to her friend, Phoeby. Janie, raised in rural west Florida by her grandmother, is forced to marry, at age sixteen, a landowner, Logan Killicks. Far from giving her stability and respectability, Killicks instead treats her like a mule. Her image of love and life as a beautiful blossoming pear tree that grew in her grandmother's yard is dashed by the harsh realities of this loveless marriage.

She leaves Killicks to marry Joe Starks, an ambitious businessman who builds and becomes the mayor of an all black town. Joe also treats her as property--as a showpiece to bolster his image in the town, and does not allow her to befriend any one else. When Joe dies after seventeen years, Janie is finally financially and spiritually independent.

She falls in love with a young roustabout, Tea Cake--a man who (mostly) treats her as an equal partner and who returns her love fully. Despite the townspeople's disapproval, Janie and Tea Cake leave the town to make their way in the Florida muck, working side by side as itinerant farm hands.

During a hurricane and flood, Tea Cake saves Janie from a mad dog, but gets bitten himself. Tea Cake later develops fulminant rabies and is too late to receive effective treatment. Tea Cake turns on Janie and she must defend herself. The novel closes back in the frame of telling the story to Phoeby, of teaching Phoeby about love: "Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore." Janie, reflective, mature, and strong, has gained wisdom from her life and suffering.

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A Lesson Before Dying

Gaines, Ernest

Last Updated: Nov-28-2006
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In a rural town in Louisiana in the late 1940's a poorly educated young black man, Jefferson, is in the wrong place at the wrong time: he is in a liquor store with two friends when they murder the white storekeeper. Jefferson is unfairly convicted of murder and sentenced to the electric chair by a white judge and jury.

His defense lawyer, in trying to stave off the death sentence, labels him a "hog"--and it is this label that Jefferson's godmother wants disproved. She enlists the help of the narrator of the novel, Grant Wiggins, the plantation schoolteacher.

Wiggins agrees to talk with Jefferson only out of a sense of duty--he is an unhappy, angry man who dreamt of escape from his impoverished youth yet returned to his hometown after a university education to teach in the same one-room parish school he attended. Despite humiliation at the hands of the white sheriff, Jefferson's lack of cooperation, and his own sense of futility and uncertain faith, Wiggins forges a bond with Jefferson that leads to wisdom and courage.

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Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Brown, anthropologist and Professor of Anthropology of Religion at Drew University, describes the life, religion and healing practices of Marie Therese Alourdes Macena Margaux Kowalski, also known as Alourdes or Moma Lola, a priestess of Voodou, who emigrated to the U.S. from Port-au-Prince in Haiti at the age of 24. What began as an ethnographic research project on immigrant Haitians, turned into a deep personal friendship between Moma Lola and Brown, and a privileged look at the practices and patients of a priestess, and at the socio-cultural lifeworlds of the Haitian community in Brooklyn and in Haiti between 1978 and 1986.

The book presents an intimate description of an alternative healing tradition through a number of perspectives. Brown alternates between a personal, an analytical, and a descriptive narrative of Moma Lola’s own history and her encounters with patients. In some chapters, Brown fictionally reconstructs the patient’s stories, so that the book is part traditional ethnography, and part fiction.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

It is Good Friday, or, rather two Good Fridays: one muddy and stormy and demanding an indoor funeral conducted by a black-robe but infused with an attenuated Salish ritual. This is the bad Good Friday. The real Good Friday, the warm and sunny one, escapes the Christian emblems. The tribal mourners' ". . . chanting / bangs the door of any man's first cave." As the narrator leaves the church of the bad Good Friday funeral service, he notes, "Every year / A few less live who know the Salish hymn."

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Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Collection (Mixed Genres)

Summary:

The first sentence of the introduction indicates the author's intention to talk about "how we do it--and how we could do it". Ending life, she says, is an issue under sustained debate in the United States and in much of the developed world. The argument over physician-assisted suicide is the central framework. The described debates on euthanasia and suicide include two pro and three con arguments in American and international contexts. This collection includes essays, practical notes, historical explorations, policy analyses, fiction, and creative non-fiction written by the author.

The author describes the role of fiction and creative non-fiction as offering a recognition of narrative as a respected form of investigation of social issues. Included are two selections that are in this genre and they are very powerful. The essay on the ethics of self-sacrifice is timely and well written. The author's final conclusion is that Stoic and Christian thinking are still in active collision in much of our consideration of these issues and that this means that advance personal policy making remains in the fullest sense an exercise for each individual.

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Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The story itself commences after the vituperative dedication to Robert Southey and several stanzas mocking contemporary heroes, with Don Juan's birth in Seville to Donna Inez and Don José. The adventures begin with his affair with Donna Julia, his mother's best friend. Donna Julia's husband, Don Alfonso discovers the secret romance, and Don Juan is sent to Cadiz. A shipwreck along the way sees him stranded, the lone survivor; there he meets a pirate's daughter, Haidée. Expelled from this paradise by Haidée's father, the pirate Lambro, he is captured, and sold into slavery.

Gulbayaz, one of the Sultan's harem, has him purchased and smuggled into her company dressed as a girl; after he spends the night in the bed of one of her courtesans, Gulbayaz threatens both with death. When next we see Don Juan, he has escaped. He joins in the Russian attack on Ismail, where he fights valiantly and rescues Leila, a Muslim child. They are taken to St Petersburg, where he impresses Catherine The Great and joins her entourage. Due to illness, he is sent to London, where, as an ambassador for Russia, he joins the Court and finds for Leila a suitable governess; the final cantos see him amongst the Lords and Ladies of British aristocracy, in particular Lady Adeline and the mysterious Aurora Raby.

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Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Gilbert begins her narrative with the event that inspired her to write: her husband's death in 1991 after a routine prostatectomy. "Though he was in robust health apart from the tumor for which he was being treated, Elliot died some six hours after my children and I were told that his surgeon had successfully removed the malignancy. And for the first six months after he died, death suddenly seemed plausible ... "(1).

But whereas her book Wrongful Death (annotated in this database) deals with Elliot Gilbert's death, the present work takes the author through death's door into personal reflection and research across a vast area, including personal, cultural, and literary aspects of death. Larger than a memoir, her work universalizes her personal experience with dying and death. And writing is what she does and what she has to do: "THIS is the curse. Write" (92).

Gilbert divides her material into three main sections, each containing several subsections: 1. Arranging my mourning: five meditations on the psychology of grief; 2. History makes death: how the twentieth century reshaped dying and mourning; and 3. The handbook of heartbreak: contemporary elegy and lamentation. The 27 illustrations she has selected range from the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald to recent photographs by Dan Jury, to Maya Lin's Vietnam War Memorial. In these symbolic representations, Gilbert finds our universal fear of the process of dying, "If this is what it is, GrŸnewald seems to be telling the viewer, for Our Lord to die the death, what must it be for those of us less staunch, less noble - in short, less divine?" (115).

Traditional elegy, by John Milton and Percy Bysshe Shelley, on the other hand, seeks to comfort the poet and reader with the hope of a life hereafter, but modern secular poets like William Carlos Williams and Samuel Beckett offer no solace at all. The older term "expiration" gives hope that our spirit may survive our death. But "termination," the twentieth-century word for death, describes how humans and animals die, in our post-Darwinian world. Her word for this is nada. The holocaust stands as the ultimate ex-termination, or death by technology.

Seeking to understand Sylvia Plath's disease- and death-filled poetry, Gilbert travels literally to Berck-Plage, France, and figuratively, through the notorious "Daddy," "Lady Lazarus," and "Getting There." As a woman and a writer, Gilbert is fascinated by Plath: "For perhaps more than anyone else - more even than her much-admired Wallace Stevens himself - she really did articulate not just the vision but the 'mythology of modern death' that Stevens tentatively proposed" (310). The author contrasts Plath with nineteenth-century Walt Whitman who said, "... to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier" (332). Whitman seems to be ambivalent or even positive towards death; Emily Dickinson, of his same century, finds death terrifying.

Ultimately, modern death is embarrassing; death avoidance prevails, notably among doctors. This despite the fact that the first patient a medical student sees is a cadaver. Death is a doctor's failure and it is easier to blame the patient than to accept the death. Death in an American hospital is a "humanectomy", or physical removal of the individual's humanity as she/he is attached to IVs, monitors, feedings tubes, and other mechanical devices.

Modern hospital death is demeaning, because patients are granted little privacy, their TV sets are set to blaring; all personnel, including doctors, enter their rooms unannounced: "Whereas the patient is emotional - fearful, angry, needy - the doctor is detached, abstract, 'objective' " (189). Clearly, the author still lovingly mourns her dead husband bleeding to death alone in a hospital room. Energized by lost love, she writes and documents and works her way toward death.

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