Saturday 31 August 2019

Schools and Religious Diversity: Why Teacher Professionalism Needs Diversity Awareness

Next week, the 2019 CESNUR Conference "Re-Enchanting the World: Spiritualities and Religions of the Third Millennium" will be held, taking place from 5 to 7 September at the Università di Torino.

I am very much looking forward to travelling with my Cinquecento, taking part and talking about "Schools and Religious Diversity: Why Teacher Professionalism Needs Diversity Awareness":

The rise of migration to Europe has brought ethnic and religious diversity, is reshaping the educational landscape and challenging policy makers. In populist rhetoric, religion is instrumentalised as a means of constructing a “Christian Occident” as an antithesis to immigrants and refugees mainly coming from Muslim-majority countries. Islam has more or less become Europe’s second religion, at the same time reason number one for discrimination and bullying at school. According to surveys, teachers feel ill prepared to meet the needs of students with a different religious background and helpless when confronted with islamophobia, antisemtitism, etc. Since schools play a key role in integration, supporting social changes, and building the future, it is high time university curricula and teachers‘ ongoing education were rethought.
In this paper, the field of tension is discussed between schools‘ task to educate in line with the majority’s culture and the inclusion of minorities, between stereotypes, challenges, problems and chances, between freedom to and from religion, as well as types of religious discrimination, perpetrators and victims, good practices, and latent variables hidden behind generalisations suggesting that it is not necessarily religion per se that is the problem.

photographs via and via and via

Friday 30 August 2019

Body Language Reading and Gender

Generally speaking and not considering cross-cultural differences, women seem to be more sensitive to non-verbal cues and more proficient in recognising facial emotions than men who tend to be better at recognising emotions from voices. According to Sokolov et al.'s study (n=34) carried out in Germany - and consistent with conclusions of previous studies - angry emotion is recognised better than happy emotion. However, some tendencies could be observed based on the participant's gender:

Males outperformed in recognition of happy knocking (p < 0.015), whereas females excelled in recognition of neutral knocking (p < 0.016) and tended to over-perform in recognition of angry knocking (p < 0.07).
The authors conclude that there is a gender effect which again is modulated by the emotional content.
Here we investigated whether, and, if so, how recognition of emotional expressions revealed by body motion is gender dependent. To this end, females and males were presented with point-light displays portraying knocking at a door performed with different emotional expressions. The findings show that gender affects accuracy rather than speed of body language reading. This effect, however, is modulated by emotional content of actions: males surpass in recognition accuracy of happy actions, whereas females tend to excel in recognition of hostile angry knocking. Advantage of women in recognition accuracy of neutral actions suggests that females are better tuned to the lack of emotional content in body actions.
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- Sokolov, A. A., Krüger, S., Enck, P., Krägeloh-Mann, I. & Pavlova, M. A. (2011). Gender Affects Body Language Reading. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, link
- photograph taken in New York in 1970 by Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) via

Thursday 29 August 2019

Equality, by Maya Angelou

"Throughout Equality, there are clear themes of discrimination, which line up with Angelou’s public contributions towards the fight for civil rights. Her own experiences make it very likely that she is the narrator of the poem" (for more poem analysis see).

You declare you see me dimly
through a glass which will not shine,
though I stand before you boldly,
trim in rank and marking time.
You do own to hear me faintly
as a whisper out of range,
while my drums beat out the message
and the rhythms never change.

Equality, and I will be free.
Equality, and I will be free.

You announce my ways are wanton,
that I fly from man to man,
but if I'm just a shadow to you,
could you ever understand ?

We have lived a painful history,
we know the shameful past,
but I keep on marching forward,
and you keep on coming last.

Equality, and I will be free.
Equality, and I will be free.

Take the blinders from your vision,
take the padding from your ears,
and confess you've heard me crying,
and admit you've seen my tears.

Hear the tempo so compelling,
hear the blood throb in my veins.
Yes, my drums are beating nightly,
and the rhythms never change.

Equality, and I will be free.
Equality, and I will be free.

Maya Angelou

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photographs by Jill Krementz via and via, copyright by owner

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Quoting Ricky Gervais

"Sometimes being old is used as an insult, which is bizarre because, if you're lucky, that's literally going to happen to you. It's a strange thing to gloat about: being born recently."
Ricky Gervais

"There are no Hollywood stars speaking out for the elderly. They're forgotten, bewildered, and I don't think it's because people are cruel or don't care. It's because you don't want to think about your own mortality. I think people don't talk about it enough."
Ricky Gervais

"I think our elderly are forgotten sometimes."

Ricky Gervais

"I'm a fan of the kind of political correctness that is about not promoting prejudice. But some people in America are offended by equality because when you've had privilege for so long, equality feels like oppression."
Ricky Gervais

"I don't like it when I see a racist comedian go up and say, 'What are we gonna do about all these immigrants?' and they get a round the applause. I think, 'Well that's not a joke. That's just your biased opinion."
Ricky Gervais

photographs via

Tuesday 27 August 2019

The -ism Series (33): Nuclear Colonialism

"Nuclear colonialism is a system of domination through which governments and corporations disproportionately target and devastate indigenous peoples and their lands to maintain the nuclear production process."
Danielle Endres

Nuclear colonialism refers to a system that targets indigenous peoples in order to maintain the nuclear production process. Rhetorically, it "excludes American Indians and their opposition to it". A large part of the world's nuclear industry is sited on Native lands or their surroundings, i.e., reservation and sacred lands threatening the people's health and cultural survival, poisoning their environment. In the U.S., about 70% of uranium mining takes place on Native lands. Between 1951 and 1992 alone, "over 900 nuclear weapons tests were conducted on the Nevada Test Site (NTS) land claimed by the Western Shoshone under the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley" exposing Indigenous people to radiation again and again. From the exploration to the dumping of radioactive waste, each step contributes to the genocide and ethnocide of Indigenous peoples (via).
American Indian resistance is an important part of the story of nuclear colonialism. Despite the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act's limitations, American Indian activists were instrumental in getting it passed.
Danielle Endres

Black US-Americans are also excluded in the rhetoric:
Well before Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out against nuclear weapons, African Americans were protesting the Bomb. Historians have generally ignored African Americans when studying the anti-nuclear movement, yet they were some of the first citizens to protest Truman's decision to drop atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
(...) from early on, blacks in America saw the use of atomic bombs as a racial issue, asking why such enormous resources were being spent building nuclear arms instead of being used to improve impoverished communities. Black activists' fears that race played a role in the decision to deploy atomic bombs only increased when the U.S. threatened to use nuclear weapons in Korea in the 1950s and Vietnam a decade later. (...) the nuclear issue was connected to colonialism: the U.S. obtained uranium from the Belgian controlled Congo and the French tested their nuclear weapons in the Sahara. (via)

"Atomic ballet" with a (stemless) mushroom cloud at Upshot-Knothole Dixie of Operation Upshot-Knothole. The photographs of ballet dancer Sally McCloskey were taken by photographer Donald English on 6 April 1953
Sometimes we would cover it from Angel’s Peak, take pictures of the mushroom cloud. Sometimes we’’d take dancers up to the top of the peak. I’’d have one girl, Sally McCloskey, we did a little series that was called Angel’’s Dance. And she was a ballet dancer, not a showgirl, and she did an interpretive dance to the mushroom cloud as it came up and we shot a series of pictures and sent it out on the wire and they called it Angel’’s Dance. We just did anything we could to make the picture a little bit different because the newspapers would run the mushroom cloud pictures, but they were always hungry for anything that had any kind of a different approach.
Donald English
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- Endres, D. (2016). The Rhetoric of Nuclear Colonialism: Rhetorical Exclusion of American Indian Arguments in the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Siting Decision. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 6(1), 39-60, LINK
- Schwartz, J. A. (2016). Matters of Empathy and Nuclear Colonialism: Marshallese Voices Marked in Story, Song, and Illustration. Music & Politics, X(2), LINK
- photographs of nuclear dancer via and via and via

Monday 26 August 2019

Defining Museums

According to the International Council of Museums, a museum is "a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment". This has been the accepted definition for about fifty years. This September, the council will vote on a new definition as the current one may "not speak the language of the 21st century" (via):

Museums are democratizing, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures. Acknowledging and addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present, they hold artifacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguard diverse memories for future generations and guarantee equal rights and equal access to heritage for all people.
Museums are not for profit. They are participatory and transparent, and work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, interpret, exhibit, and enhance understandings of the world, aiming to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing.

photographs by Sandra Lousada (Rothko exhibition, 1961) via

Thursday 15 August 2019

Job Descriptions: Male-Coded or Female-Coded?

After scanning 75.000 job advertisements in the U.K. for gendered words, Totaljobs came to the conclusion that hidden bias can have an enormous impact on job descriptions. Here are a few findings:

The most commonly used male-gendered words were: lead, analyse, competitive, active, confident; the most commonly used female-gendered words were: support, responsible, understanding, dependable, committed. By industry, the strongest bias was found in education (67% female bias) and science (62% male bias) (via).

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photograph by Vivian Maier via

Monday 12 August 2019

"... brilliance and dullness have no age delineation despite any shaming rhetoric."

"The notion that age is a realistic predictor of skills, relevance, wisdom and value is bollocks. It is not, nor will ever be, the total determinant of connectivity, smarts and success. There are just so many other components to throw in and mix in the evaluation pot.

Indeed brilliance and dullness have no age delineation despite any shaming rhetoric. It is not only the quantity and type of experiences in life that matter and shape us mere humans, but the depth and quality of learning embraced and application. And that is where the rubber can stick or slip off the road in the ageism malarkey."
Sue Parker

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photograph by Vivian Maier via

Saturday 10 August 2019

Toni Morrison's Nobel Lecture (1993)

“Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind but wise.” Or was it an old man? A guru, perhaps. Or a griot soothing restless children. I have heard this story, or one exactly like it, in the lore of several cultures.

“Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind. Wise.”

In the version I know the woman is the daughter of slaves, black, American, and lives alone in a small house outside of town. Her reputation for wisdom is without peer and without question. Among her people she is both the law and its transgression. The honor she is paid and the awe in which she is held reach beyond her neighborhood to places far away; to the city where the intelligence of rural prophets is the source of much amusement.

One day the woman is visited by some young people who seem to be bent on disproving her clairvoyance and showing her up for the fraud they believe she is. Their plan is simple: they enter her house and ask the one question the answer to which rides solely on her difference from them, a difference they regard as a profound disability: her blindness. They stand before her, and one of them says, “Old woman, I hold in my hand a bird. Tell me whether it is living or dead.”

She does not answer, and the question is repeated. “Is the bird I am holding living or dead?”

Still she doesn’t answer. She is blind and cannot see her visitors, let alone what is in their hands. She does not know their color, gender or homeland. She only knows their motive.

The old woman’s silence is so long, the young people have trouble holding their laughter.

Finally she speaks and her voice is soft but stern. “I don’t know”, she says. “I don’t know whether the bird you are holding is dead or alive, but what I do know is that it is in your hands. It is in your hands.”

Her answer can be taken to mean: if it is dead, you have either found it that way or you have killed it. If it is alive, you can still kill it. Whether it is to stay alive, it is your decision. Whatever the case, it is your responsibility.

For parading their power and her helplessness, the young visitors are reprimanded, told they are responsible not only for the act of mockery but also for the small bundle of life sacrificed to achieve its aims. The blind woman shifts attention away from assertions of power to the instrument through which that power is exercised.

Speculation on what (other than its own frail body) that bird-in-the-hand might signify has always been attractive to me, but especially so now thinking, as I have been, about the work I do that has brought me to this company. So I choose to read the bird as language and the woman as a practiced writer. She is worried about how the language she dreams in, given to her at birth, is handled, put into service, even withheld from her for certain nefarious purposes. Being a writer she thinks of language partly as a system, partly as a living thing over which one has control, but mostly as agency – as an act with consequences. So the question the children put to her: “Is it living or dead?” is not unreal because she thinks of language as susceptible to death, erasure; certainly imperiled and salvageable only by an effort of the will. She believes that if the bird in the hands of her visitors is dead the custodians are responsible for the corpse. For her a dead language is not only one no longer spoken or written, it is unyielding language content to admire its own paralysis. Like statist language, censored and censoring. Ruthless in its policing duties, it has no desire or purpose other than maintaining the free range of its own narcotic narcissism, its own exclusivity and dominance. However moribund, it is not without effect for it actively thwarts the intellect, stalls conscience, suppresses human potential. Unreceptive to interrogation, it cannot form or tolerate new ideas, shape other thoughts, tell another story, fill baffling silences. Official language smitheryed to sanction ignorance and preserve privilege is a suit of armor polished to shocking glitter, a husk from which the knight departed long ago. Yet there it is: dumb, predatory, sentimental. Exciting reverence in schoolchildren, providing shelter for despots, summoning false memories of stability, harmony among the public.

She is convinced that when language dies, out of carelessness, disuse, indifference and absence of esteem, or killed by fiat, not only she herself, but all users and makers are accountable for its demise. In her country children have bitten their tongues off and use bullets instead to iterate the voice of speechlessness, of disabled and disabling language, of language adults have abandoned altogether as a device for grappling with meaning, providing guidance, or expressing love. But she knows tongue-suicide is not only the choice of children. It is common among the infantile heads of state and power merchants whose evacuated language leaves them with no access to what is left of their human instincts for they speak only to those who obey, or in order to force obedience.

The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.

The old woman is keenly aware that no intellectual mercenary, nor insatiable dictator, no paid-for politician or demagogue; no counterfeit journalist would be persuaded by her thoughts. There is and will be rousing language to keep citizens armed and arming; slaughtered and slaughtering in the malls, courthouses, post offices, playgrounds, bedrooms and boulevards; stirring, memorializing language to mask the pity and waste of needless death. There will be more diplomatic language to countenance rape, torture, assassination. There is and will be more seductive, mutant language designed to throttle women, to pack their throats like paté-producing geese with their own unsayable, transgressive words; there will be more of the language of surveillance disguised as research; of politics and history calculated to render the suffering of millions mute; language glamorized to thrill the dissatisfied and bereft into assaulting their neighbors; arrogant pseudo-empirical language crafted to lock creative people into cages of inferiority and hopelessness. (...)

text (c) The Nobel Foundation, excerpts via

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photograph via

Thursday 8 August 2019

Quoting Toni Morrison

“I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”
Toni Morrison

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”
Toni Morrison

“What I think the political correctness debate is really about is the power to be able to define. The definers want the power to name. And the defined are now taking that power away from them.”
Toni Morrison

“Black literature is taught as sociology, as tolerance, not as a serious, rigorous art form.”
Toni Morrison

“I don't think anybody cares about unwed mothers unless they're black or poor. The question is not morality, the question is money. That's what we're upset about.”
Toni Morrison

“Whitepeople believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way, he thought, they were right. The more coloredpeople spent their strength trying to convince them how gentle they were, how clever and loving, how human, the more they used themselves up to persuade whites of something Negroes believed could not be questioned, the deeper and more tangled the jungle grew inside. But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them to this place from the other (livable) place. It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread. In, through and after life, it spread, until it invaded the whites who had made it. Touched them every one. Changed and altered them. Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own.”
Toni Morrison

“I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked [James] Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don't know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That's what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say 'people,' that's what I mean.”
Toni Morrison

“I always looked upon the acts of racist exclusion, or insult, as pitiable, for the other person. I never absorbed that. I always thought that there was something deficient about such people. ”
Toni Morrison

“Black people are victims of an enormous amount of violence. None of those things can take place without the complicity of the people who run the schools and the city.”
Toni Morrison

“Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilizations. Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone in accomplishing this.”
Toni Morrison

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photographs (with her yournger son Slade and Angela Davis) via and (with Angela Davis) via