Archive for the ‘Cultural Insights’ Category

Sufi Muslims and Islam

Could the West gain a foothold in the battle against Islamic terrorism by working to strengthen Islam? Yes, under certain conditions, suggests this intriguing essay in the Boston Globe. According to the author, Philip Jenkins, the West has a natural ally in the Sufi Muslim movement, which is a more mystical branch of Islam that has […]

The canals freeze, the Dutch rejoice

Anyone who is familiar with the Netherlands knows that the Dutch have a unique and special relationship with the water. And in the winter, what they really want to do is to skate on the frozen water of the canals that crisscross their country. Sadly, though, an activity that was once an annual obsession now happens […]

The dwindling Zoroastrians

Most people know that Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the world’s three great monotheistic religions, all sprang from the Middle East. But how many are aware that another significant – and even older – monotheistic faith also arose in that region of the world? Zoroastrianism was born in the Persian empire, in what is now Iran, and was […]

The shoe toss heard round the world

By now, everyone has heard of the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George Bush during a press conference. Almost all of the press coverage has dutifully reported that throwing a shoe at someone is a grave insult in the Arab world, a comment that has sparked countless other individuals to respond with […]

Whirling dervishes

Have you ever heard of the whirling dervishes? Have you ever seen a performance? The only one I ever saw was, oddly enough, in Egypt and not Turkey, which is the country more commonly associated with these spiritual dancers. Nevertheless, the performance by the lone dancer I saw was incredible. I couldn’t take my eyes off […]

History, patience and fatalism in Egypt

Egypt has a history that stretches back thousands of years. It’s a boon for the tourist industry, which draws millions of annual visitors to the Pyramids, the Valley of the Kings and other such sites, but the country’s long past also has an interesting cultural influence as it seems to induce a sense of fatalism in the […]

Four Seasons in Rome

I just finished reading a book called “Four Seasons in Rome,” by Anthony Doerr. One the surface, it’s the tale of a husband and wife who move to Rome for a year (for a writing fellowship) with their two children. The catch is that the children are twins and are only a few months old […]

The culture of Italian food

I came across a great article about a movement that has sprung up in Italy to preserve the country’s culture of cooking and serving good food. Ah, but Italian food is always good, you might say. Perhaps, but the members of the Home Food movement contend that something of the country’s heritage is being lost – […]

The American wanderer

Wandering is ingrained in the American soul. There is a transience inherent in the U.S. which is somewhat exhilarating and sad at the same time, as it reflects both the rootlessness of millions of people but also the unique capacity of Americans to do or be almost anything they desire. The NY Times recently published an intriguing […]

Describing Seattle

Here is another entry for an expanding collection of posts about the character and culture of various cities.  Charles Johnson is a writer and professor who has lived in Seattle since the 1970s, and he described his vision and experience of this city in an essay for Smithsonian Magazine. An excerpt: Former UW president William Gerberding once referred to […]

Differences between individualist and group-oriented societies

David Brooks usually focuses on politics from a conservative perspective in his NY Times op-ed column, but every once in a while he has a piece that delves into culture in some form or other. That is what he does in today’s column, which looks at some of the differences between individualist and group-oriented societies. This […]

The paradoxes of Tel Aviv and Israel

There was an interesting recent article about Tel Aviv in the New York Times travel section. It’s interesting because it not only gives the typical tourist overview of a destination, but it gets into the culture and the psyche of Tel Aviv and Israel. An excerpt: Tel Aviv is “half Iran, half California; it’s a synagogue […]

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