Justin Aptaker graduated summa cum laude from the University of Tennessee, earning a B.A. in psychology and a minor in religious studies.

A Psychosocial Critique of Sabina Magliocco’s Witching Culture

“I have no doubt.”

- Gus

Gus, once skeptical about the existence of divinity, describes his transformed outlook after directly experiencing a divine presence during a life-altering ecstatic experience, which served as his entry into Pagan identity ( Witching Culture 156)

“Two systems . . . can be seen as integrating organic motivation and symbols: personality and society . . . If a system has managed to develop a broad and flexible capacity for rapid learning . …


Preface

“To the few who love me and whom I love—to those who feel rather than to those who think—to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities—I offer this Book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the Beauty that abounds in its Truth; constituting it true. To these I present the composition as an Art-Product alone:—let us say as a Romance; or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim, as a Poem.”

“What I here propound is true:—therefore it cannot die:—or if by any means it be now…


I find it fascinating that, although Max Weber and Emile Durkheim likely never knew of one another, they begin their respective works on religion in much the same way. Namely, they each state that a definition of religion cannot possibly be provided until the end of their study (Weber 399; Durkheim 37). Thus, they each make an implicit promise that by the end of their essays, the reader will have learned their definitions of religion. This is a promise that Durkheim and Weber fulfill in very different ways.

Durkheim has no qualms speaking of “religion in general” (17), the essence…


Charles Price, in Becoming Rasta, often refers to “seeds” (134, 142, 163). This is an apt metaphor, pointing to the themes of conception and birth that inform Rastas’ understandings of their identities. Rastafari don’t picture their identity transformations in terms of conversion; they see Rastafari as a seed present within them at birth, which germinates and begins to mature when they “discover” it, bringing it “into consciousness” (141–142). …


From very early on, certain Christianities, unlike the pagan religions surrounding them, placed strong emphasis on their exclusive claim to “the truth” (Ehrman, NT, 452). These groups, believing eternity itself to be at stake, attacked the beliefs of not only other religions, but of other kinds of Christian believers as well. Charges of heresy and grievous error were leveled, not only by proto-orthodox Christians, but also at proto-orthodox Christians by their opponents (Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, Verses 74–78; Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora 3:3). Such charges, however, cannot be taken at face value, because they both hinged on subjective interpretations and…


Driving through a neighborhood I once called home, I stopped my car for a frail, elderly woman waving me down from the sidewalk. “No matter what she says, don’t let her know you have any money,” said my friend from the passenger seat. The woman only needed a short ride to visit a friend. “Hey Justin,” she addressed me from the back seat, “I promised to give my friend a few dollars for gas. Would you happen to have anything you could lend me?”

“Sorry,” I said, “I’m broke.”

The woman continued to ask and plead, as my friend looked…


Theodoret, in The Religious History, introduces his section on female ascetics by saying that they “are worthy of still greater praise [than the male ascetics], when, despite having a weaker nature, they display the same zeal as the men and free their sex from its ancestral disgrace” (29:1). This short sentence reveals a great deal about the relationship between gender and asceticism in early Christianity. While it points to a rare opportunity for honor and distinction that asceticism afforded women, it also demonstrates that this distinction did not transcend traditional gender conceptions. In fact, by taking for granted the “weaker…


Viktor Frankl: Groundbreaking psychologist and neurologist. Survivor of Holocaust death-camp.

Being an admirer of the existential tradition in psychology (particularly of the work of Dr. Viktor Frankl), I was eager to see how James Hansell and Lisa Damour, in their widely used textbook Abnormal Psychology, would portray it among the various theoretical perspectives. I suspected that it would be relatively marginalized, and it was; while eight pages were devoted to the biological perspective, six to the psychodynamic, four to the cognitive, and three pages to the behavioral, only a single paragraph was granted to the existential tradition. …


Portrait of Mao at Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) in Beijing | Source: Mao Zedong portrait by Zhang Zhenshi & artist committee, WikiMedia Commons (Freedom of Panorama)

Gods and Lineages

According to Rudolf Wagner, secular movements like the communist movement in China attempt to “match the religious structure with revolutionary institutions” (Wagner 378). In the case of communism in China, I would say that this was done quite successfully, with the establishment of revolutionary analogues to gods, patriarchs/heroes, temples, sacred texts, asceticism, immortality, liturgy/sacred music, community rituals, mummification, virtues, pilgrimage, orthodoxy, and even inner transformation. This paper will outline examples of these secular parallels during the Maoist/communist era to traditional religion in China.

Central to any theistic religion, of course, are its gods or God. Communist China was not without…


Between June and September of 1692, in Salem, Massachusetts, nineteen persons were hanged and over one-hundred fifty were sent to languish in prison. One might say that all this was caused by some silly or malevolent little girls. Alternately, one might say that the tragedy was the result of a generally prevailing stupidity and popular credulity. This latter explanation is rather comforting in this scientific age, as we may assure ourselves that we are no longer susceptible to such outbreaks of savage superstition. More accurately, however, one might attribute these events to a confluence of social forces that had long…

Justin Aptaker

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