Category: Religion


This is the new film directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and starrting Tilda Swinton in a broader artistic collaboration.  Weerasethakul, in case you do not recognize the name, is director of Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives, arguably the best movie of the last twenty years.

I won’t try to summarize the plot of Memoria, only to tell you it is set in Colombia (the director’s first film outside of Thailand), mostly in Spanish, has A+ cinematography, and it concerns how the revelation of Buddhist Enlightenment might begin to spread through the world.  I’ve read a half dozen reviews of the movie, but none are very insightful and they barely mention the Buddhist angle (and Hinduist animism), central to understanding Weerasethakul’s films.

This movie is almost certainly the best of the year, or more.  And it will cement Weerasethakul’s reputation as the most important director of our time.

Fortunately, it is not available on streaming services for the stay at home small screen barbarians.  It is being rolled out in an unusual fashion, one city at a time (more or less), and currently it is playing for this week only at AFI in Silver Spring, Maryland.  The roll out is poorly organized and publicized.

Recommended, don’t miss it.

My excellent Conversation with Roy Foster

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the episode summary;

Roy joined Tyler to discuss why the Scots got off easier than the Irish under British rule, the truths and misconceptions about Ireland as a policy laboratory for the British government, why spoken Irish faded more rapidly than Welsh, the single question that drove a great flowering of Irish economic thought, how Foster’s Quaker education shaped his view of Irish history, how the Battle of the Somme and the 1916 Easter Rising cemented the rift between the Northeast and the rest of the country, what went wrong with Irish trade policies between the 1920s and 1970s, the power of Irish education, why the re-emergence of The Troubles in the 1960s may not have been as inevitable as many people believe, the cultural effects of Ireland’s pro-Allied neutrality in World War II, how Irish visual art is beginning to be looked at in a similar way to Irish literature, the social and economic changes of the 1970s that began to radically reshape Irish society, the reasons for Ireland’s openness to foreigners, what Irish Americans misunderstand, and more.

Here is an excerpt:

COWEN: If we think of the 19th century, as you know, I think it’s in 1831 that free universal schooling comes to Ireland. Are there ways in which, in the 19th century, Ireland is more modern than Britain?

FOSTER: That’s a very interesting and subtle question.

There is a theory that Ireland is used as a laboratory for British government and that they will apply further afield, in India and the Caribbean, models and lessons that they’ve learned in Ireland, which is sometimes referred to as Britain’s oldest or England’s oldest colony.

I have a slight problem with that, because Ireland is a very special kind of colony, if it’s a colony: it’s a metropolitan colony. The original inhabitants remain, one could say, in a far stronger position than in many of the areas of the British Empire, where they are effectively either enslaved or wiped out. But the point is really that what’s happening in Ireland in the 18th and 19th century is, as I’ve said earlier, a kind of dispossession.

But at the same time, there are elements — and this is true from the Act of Union, which abolishes the old, very elite Irish Parliament in 1800 — there are elements of experimentation in the British government of Ireland which aren’t (I have to say this) entirely malign, and you zero in on education. The attempt that was being made in the early 1830s was to introduce a nondenominational form of primary education for the Irish people.

Ireland being Ireland, it was rapidly denominationalized: the Catholics used it for their purposes and the Protestants used it for their purposes. But the theory of it was that you had to overcome the religious differences, which by the early 19th century seemed to dictate everything that was happening in Ireland.

The great novelist William Thackeray, who was married to an Irish woman, said when he did a tour of Ireland and wrote his Irish Sketch Book, “Where to get at the truth in this country: it is not possible. There are two truths, the Catholic truth and the Protestant truth.” By the early 19th century, this seemed all too true.

Substantive throughout, in my view one of the very best CWTs in some while.

Did Turkish Islamization make people more religious?


This paper first evaluates the impact of a two-decade-long Islamization policy carried out by a pro-Islamist party, which came to power in 2002 in Turkey, on the attitudes of Turkish people toward religious values, religious practices, and clergy. In this regard, how the importance of religion, frequency of going to mosques, and trust in the clergy have changed among Turkish Muslims between 2002 and 2018 were examined by using World Values Survey data and employing logistic regression analysis. Estimation results indicated a reduction in belief in God, attendance to mosques, and trust in clergy, which imply the failure of the Islamization policy. Second, we explored what caused the failure by using the same data set and methodology. Our estimations suggested that the symbiotic relationship between the pro-Islamist government and religious clergy and institutions may explain the failure. As the government is identified with religion in the eye of the public, dissatisfaction with the government turned to dissatisfaction with religious values.

Here is the paper by Murat Çokgezen, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Clash of Civilizations?


Samuel Huntington, the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ theorist, had this to say in a 1993 issue of ‘Foreign Affairs’: “If (the concept of) civilization is the key, then the probability of violence between Russians and Ukrainians should be low.” The moral of the story, for me, is that with this military intervention by Russia in Ukraine, we have definitive proof (because we have many others) that the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ theory does not work, even though it inspires many thinkers in geostrategy. The idea that the collapse of the Soviet Union was irreversible and that we were now heading for a ‘Christianity versus Islam’ confrontation is collapsing and we can see that it has never played a role in Putin’s vision. Since Catherine II, Russia has always integrated Muslims into the Empire. And Putin has an imperial vision, he is definitely not having a religion based geostrategy, as some of the European right and extreme right believed.

The facts were quite clear. Among Putin’s four military interventions in the former Soviet space, three targeted Christian and Orthodox countries.

That is from an interview with Olivier Roy, via Alexander Le Roy.

*The Invention of Power*

The author is Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and the subtitle is Popes, Kings, and the Birth of the West.  Here is the main thesis:

Why Europe became distinct after the year 1000 and not before can be reduced to this surprisingly simple reason: in Europe, the head of religion and the head(s) of state were different people who faced off against one another in long-standing, long-lasting, intense competition for political control.  Certainly, the rulers of China and Japan were thought to be gods.

I consider this broadly consistent with my own views, although I see many other significant factors in the broader history, including natural geography and political fragmentation.  Nor can you dismiss the role of imperialism entirely, plus that the growth of the West came “at the right time” (for the West at least).  I like this book, but I don’t think it quite has the knockdown proof of its thesis that it pretends to.  And the book is oddly silent about Christianity as a general phenomenon.  There is talk of popes and churches on almost every page, and yet Christianity as an intellectual innovation, helping to make liberalism more likely, does not play much of a role in the narrative.  And given how general and deeply rooted some of the mechanisms are, I don’t quite understand why so much stress is placed on the 1122 Concordat of Worms — surely that is endogenous too?  It is an odd philosophy of history in which so much hinges on a single event and then for almost a thousand years the rest that follows is locked in.

Religion in the south Pacific (from my email)

I spent years living on a small, remote Pacific island. I am not religious, I was there on a government contract. Practically the only other Westerners were missionaries.

Importantly, Pacific islands have always been relatively easy to convert. They converted quite quickly to Christianity. The off-the-cuff explanation for this is usually “because they are so friendly” or whatever. An underrated factor is the fact that on many islands they genuinely helped improve the situation. Prior to the missionary operations many of these islands were getting literally and figuratively raped by Whalers. Disease everywhere, alcohol completely ruining everything. Fathers selling children to Whalers for alcohol. The missionaries helped improve that situation (albeit incompletely and with their own set of issues they themselves caused!)

That said, these days Mormons have the best missionary operation by far:
-They learn the language.
-They translate the book of Mormon into the local language even when it is a language spoken only on that island by a small number of people.
-The missionary group, very consciously, is designed to usually contain Pacific islanders from OTHER islands but rarely one from THAT island. They generally avoid putting islander missionaries on their own island to avoid sex and alcohol issues.
-They are on their missionary grind all day, 6 days a week. One day a week (Monday or Tuesday I think) reserved for running errands and being able to relax.
-They are allowed to and encouraged to exercise but very little other recreation is allowed. They are not allowed to go swimming.
-They do a fantastic job of just talking to people and being friendly, hosting youth stuff etc. and having it be genuinely wholesome and valuable.
-The LDS churches on the islands (though not the missionaries themselves) provide food and other forms of aid (like helping with the electricity bill) to church members. This is VERY important. They are widely seen on remote islands as mostly attracting “poor families” at first, for this reason.

Distant 2nd and 3rd place is a toss up between Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seven Day Adventists. SDA builds schools. JW does a good job with the languages. SDA missionaries are often very low quality though without much in the way of a code of conduct. JW do not celebrate holidays on islands where social life is organized around all kinds of major and minor holidays.

Assembly of God, Calvary Baptist are just too small of operations, usually much older missionaries. A few other vaguely Pentecostal-seeming varieties are around too but again, they just don’t have the resources or operation size/scale to really compete.

If you’re looking for a dark horse candidate moving forward… Ahmadiyya Islam is making inroads into the Pacific! It is a tall order in very Christian Pacific cultures that know nothing about Islam, but they actually are making some progress. Big focus on providing services to the poor.

I thank A. for sending me this!

My Israel-only Conversation with the excellent Russ Roberts

Here is the audio, video, and transcript, here is the CWT summary:

In this special crossover special with EconTalk, Tyler interviews Russ Roberts about his new life in Israel as president of Shalem College. They discuss why there are so few new universities, managing teams in the face of linguistic and cultural barriers, how Israeli society could adapt to the loss of universal military service, why Israeli TV is so good, what American Jews don’t understand about life in Israel, what his next leadership challenge will be, and much more.

We didn’t shy away from the tough stuff, here is one question:

COWEN: Let me ask you another super easy question. Let’s say we think that under current circumstances, a two-state solution would not lead to security either for Israel or for the resulting Palestinian state. Many people believe that. Let’s say also, as I think you believe, that a one-state solution where everyone votes would not lead to security for a current version of Israel or even a modified version of it.

Let’s say also that the current reliance of the Palestinian territories on the state of Israel for protection, security, intelligence, water — many important features of life — prevent those governing bodies from ever attaining sufficient autonomy to be a credible peace partner, guaranteer of its own security, and so on. From that point of view, what do we do? We’re not utilitarians. We’re thinking about what’s right and wrong. What’s the right thing to do?

Do read Russ’s answer!  (Too long to excerpt.)  And:

COWEN: Now, the United States has about 330 million people, yet there are more Israeli TV shows I want to watch than American TV shows. There’s Srugim, there’s Shtisel, there’s Prisoners of War, there’s In Judgment, there’s Tehran. There’s more. Why is Israeli TV so good?

ROBERTS: I’m glad you mentioned Prisoners of War, which doesn’t get enough — Prisoners of War is in my top five. If I had to list my top five, I’d pick Shtisel, Prisoners of WarThe Americans, probably The Wire, and The Crown. Do you have a top five that you could reel off?

COWEN: The Sopranos would be my number one. Srugim and Prisoners of War plausibly would be in my top five.

We then consider the Israeli topic at hand.  Interesting throughout, a very good dialogue.

Many heads are more utilitarian than one


Collective consensual judgments made via group interactions were more utilitarian than individual judgments.

Group discussion did not change the individual judgments indicating a normative conformity effect.

Individuals consented to a group judgment that they did not necessarily buy into personally.

Collectives were less stressed than individuals after responding to moral dilemmas.

Interactions reduced aversive emotions (e.g., stressed)associated with violation of moral norms.

Here is the full article by Anita Keshmirian, Ophelia Deroy, and Bahador Bahrami.  Via Michelle Dawson.

The Cultural Origins of the Demographic Transition in France

Is it a story of early secularization?:

This research shows that secularization accounts for the early decline in fertility in eighteenth-century France. The demographic transition, a turning point in history and an essential condition for development, took hold in France first, before the French Revolution and more than a century earlier than in any other country. Why it happened so early is, according to Robert Darnton, one of the “big questions of history” because it challenges historical and economic interpretations and because of data limitations at the time. I comprehensively document the decline in fertility and its timing using a novel crowdsourced genealogical dataset. Then, I document an important process of secularization at the time. Using census data available in the nineteenth century, I show a strong association between secularization and the timing of the transition. Finally, I leverage the genealogies to account for unobserved pre-existing, geographic, and institutional differences by studying individuals before and after the onset of the transition and exploiting the choices of second-generation migrants.

Here is the paper by Guillaume Blanc, a job market candidate at Brown University.  Here is his home page.  Via Matt.

What should I ask Russ Roberts?

I will be doing a podcast with him, specifically focusing on his decision to emigrate to Israel.  Here are the suggestions that Russ solicited from Twitter.  We will release the episode both on EconTalk and on CWT.

So what should I ask him?  Keep in mind this is the Conversation with Russ I want to have…

How to Increase Effective Altruism

Caviola, Schubert and Greene have a good review of the reasons why effective and ineffective altruism attract donations. First, they note the large gains from making altruism more effective.

A US$100 donation can save a person in the developing world from trachoma, a disease that causes blindness [1]. By contrast, it costs US$50 000 to train a guide dog to help a blind person in the developed world. This large difference in impact per dollar is not unusual. According to expert estimates, the most effective charities are often 100 times more effective than typical charities [2].

…Most research on charitable giving focuses on the amounts that donors give [4]. However, if the societal goal of charitable giving is to improve human (or animal) well-being, it is probably more important to focus on the effectiveness of giving….you can double your impact by doubling the amount that you give to typical charities, but you can multiply your impact by a factor of ten, 100, or even 1000 by choosing to support more effective charities [2].

The authors then consider a number of cognitive factors or biases that allow or encourage ineffective altruism. For example, people tend to give to charities that they are emotionally connected with regardless of effectiveness and they also like to split donations across multiple charities in part because they have scope neglect (“a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.” to quote Stalin who correctly identified the principle even though he was more concerned about how to get away with killing millions than saving millions).

One particular feature of the paper that I like is that instead of simply advocating overcoming these biases they think about ways to use them. For example, you can’t stop people giving to ineffective but emotionally attractive charities but because people like to split and don’t pay attention to scope you can get them to split their donation with an effective charity.

…people tend to support charities that are emotionally appealing, paying little attention to effectiveness. However, there is evidence that many people do care about effectiveness and that information about effectiveness can make giving more effective [2,21]. Combining these insights suggests a new strategy to increase the effectiveness of charitable giving: many donors may be amenable to splitting their donations between an emotionally appealing charity and a highly effective charity, especially if provided with effectiveness information.

This strategy can work especially well if you combine it with matching funds or funds to “cover overhead” which are given by a relatively small number of rich people who can be swayed by philosophical arguments in favor of effective altruism.

Hat tip: Steve Stewart-Williams.