Communication as Science, Art, Pedagogy, and Therapeutics

Introductory notes to svAbhinava Friends all of which apply to these Outreach sites]

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[These introductory paras from (module 4 of) Sunthar's course on intercultural (cyber-) communications have yet to be adapted to this home page - SV]

With juxtaposition of multiple and conflicting frames of reference, pedagogical principles and insights have come to occupy the center stage in contemporary communications: making the world of information technology readily accessible to everyman, facilitating dialogue and mutual understanding among religious traditions, [to be completed] rlocutor that may be recognized, if at all, only in the course of unmediated human interaction in situations of sustained engagement. Since each individual is going to follow his/her own itinerary and not entirely predictable pattern of interaction on the World Wide Web, understanding of one’s own and other religions (and of cultural issues in general) is likely to develop in unique directions. These transformations at the level of mental representations are certainly going to impact and differentiate the individual’s attitudes, behavior and choices within his immediate social milieu.

For religious identities to emerge, develop, consolidate and survive, communications with the outside world had to be carefully controlled, a condition that was assured by geographical isolation (Japan, South Asia), ethnic solidarity (China), in-group marriage (diaspora Jews), and/or valorizing of oral transmission as opposed to writing (Brahmanism). Conversely, the proselytizing traditions had to rely on direct human contact for conversion (Buddhist missionary preaching), suppress the dissemination of contrary worldviews upon conquest (Islamic iconoclasm, Catholic censorship), and/or rely on new technologies such as printing (Protestant Bible). The promiscuous human intercourse within the public arena and secular workplace of the globalizing society has also resulted in defense mechanisms such as mental compartmentalization whereby immigrants assume one mode of behavior and discourse with the outside world, while remaining attached to traditional values at home and within the confines of their religious community. The fundamental assumption has been that unmediated and unrestricted access to knowledge—even when indispensable for pursuing one’s livelihood—is inherently dangerous to traditional identities that have been constructed around and nurtured by a selective reading of the world. Religious schisms, sectarian differentiation and heretical developments may be usefully understood as attempts to resolve an overpowering and irreversible breach in pre-existing barriers to communication: Christian universalism from the confrontation of Jewish messianism with the multiplicity of pagan cults of sacrifice; Buddhist world-negation from the disenchantment of the mythico-ritual worldview when the pastoral Vedic tradition clashed headlong with the secularizing mercantile mentality of the city; Rabbinic Judaism as the diaspora response to the Roman destruction of the unifying role of the Temple and the loss of political autonomy. The sudden emergence of an instantaneous, seamless and anarchic medium of global mass communication is hence both a dire challenge for the traditional religions and an unprecedented opportunity for the uncontrolled proliferation of hybrid identities.unded communities and parochial identities, the communications network offers a universal reach to their otherwise marginalized perspectives and projects. The best, and perhaps not so paradoxical, illustration of such developments is the role of the World Wide Web in facilitating the anti-globalization movement to coordinate efforts to defend and promote a worldwide coalition of local interests. Glocalization, however, is redefining the very notion of ‘locality’ by de-territorializing the context within which learning, exchanges, personal bonding, and other constitutive elements of identity-formation are now operating: the traditionally illiterate Roma diaspora, for example, is now beginning to mobilize as if they constituted a virtual nation.  The result is an increasing hybridization of not only cultural and historical consciousness, but also of various traditional and postmodern values, as reflected in the fluid, shifting and evolving participation by individuals in multiple Web forums devoted to different issues. The flourishing religious syncretism once so well exemplified by unreflective modes of life among various communities confined by space and time (so well illustrated within South Asian culture) is now making an even more powerful and irreversible comeback in cyberspace, this time on the self-conscious plane of representations. Though Web sites devoted to aggressive partisan agendas mobilize their dispersed adherents more economically and effectively, they thereby expose their tacit assumptions, peculiar logic and inner contradictions to the ‘outside’ scrutiny of non-adherents more than ever before. Moreover, attempts to proselytize on behalf of these causes or perspectives through open online forums invariably fail due to lack of mediation between multiple and opposed viewpoints. This is true even of academic discussion lists run by professional ‘knowledge-workers’—even those of institutionalized and heavily invested disciplines like Orientalism—that are devoted to the ‘’scientific’ analysis of religious traditions. Because their interpretations and even the, often tacit, assumptions are unacceptable to those who subscribe to the underlying tenets of the traditions under study—i.e., to the ‘objects’ of their discussion—exchanges are often reduced to ‘politically correct’ requests for and communication of bibliographic and other resources for research. The successful forums are precisely those that encourage—through the sensitive yet firm mediation of a skilled moderator—the expression of diverse perspectives within the concerned tradition in such a way as to facilitate engagement with those who do not share its presuppositions but possess vital specialist information, useful analytical methods and broad comparative perspectives. What we are witnessing is a degree of reflexivity being brought to bear upon the very processes of debate, dialogue and consensus that has never been possible in previous mediums. As a decentralized and transparent communication network, the Internet is inevitably transforming the nature and future of religious projects, freeing their respective ideas-values-intentions from the shells of myth, ritual, dogma and institutional control that have till now served as their indispensable supports. The techno-social anarchism of this ‘knowledge-environment’ offers a fertile common ground for the antinomian impulses hidden within these traditions to engage each other openly and eventually redefine the project of modernity itself.


André-Yves Portnoff (français, italiano)

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Denis Poncelet

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Jack Park

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Jack Paulus

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Jeff Conklin

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Michel Biezunski

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Michel Biezunski is an inventor, and works now in the field of information and knowledge management. He has created the Topic Maps paradigm which has become an international standard and is used to create topic-based navigation systems for online information. Since 2006 he is working on the Data Projection Model, a model that enables information systems to become auditable, and is based on the idea that no information item lives in isolation. By describing all information as transactions, information systems become auditable, in a similar way that accounting is based on the idea that money flows are described as transactions between accounts. The Data Projection Model also enables to decompose information into its most elementary components, therefore enabling multiple views to be applied on the same information items. Michel's background is in history and philosophy of modern physics. He is the author of two books (in French), one about the reception of the theory of relativity, one is a history of modern physics. He also has edited and published letters of Albert Einstein addressed to various correspondents in France. He has translated several books from English into French. Michel has created a curriculum for engineers on electronic publishing in France in the early 1990s. He has moved to the United States in 2001 and is now working as an independent consultant in New York. More information about his activity is available at his web site: http://www.infoloom.com.

[I was introduced to Michel in early 2000 via email by Dr. Claude Vogel (Founder and CTO of Semio Corp. specializing in data mining) when, as Director of  Research at InformIT (web portal for Pearson Technology Group) I was researching standards (Topic Maps, RDF, etc.) and software toolsets for building a collaborative taxonomy of the IT-space. I subsequently met Michel and his wife Isabelle in Paris while participating in the XML World Conference (June 2000), only to discover that we had several other interests in common, such as the philosophy of science and Judaic traditions, particularly Kabbalistic thought (Michel is a cousin of David Biale, author of Gershom Scholem: Kabbalah and Counter-History). Elizabeth and I subsequently introduced them both to Charles and Aline Mopsik, while they introduced us to Michel Grossman, who had made a French documentary on the (remnants of the) Dönmeh (Sabbatian) movement in Salonika (Greece) and Turkey, that we all watched together at the home of the Mopsiks. Isabelle and Michel Grossman had also collaborated on a documentary entitled "Nemt: A language without a people for a people without a language" about Yiddish renaissance in Vilna (Lithuania). Michel was instrumental encouraging Jean Delahousse, CEO for Mondeca, taking me on for consulting work in technical documentation and marketing. Michel and I met thereafter several times in Paris, Chicago, and during XML conferences in the US. Elizabeth and I had the pleasure of seeig Michel again in New York in July 2011 and visiting together India town (Jackson Heights) — Sunthar V.]

Raju, C. K.

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Stuart Sovatsky

Sunthar Visuvalingam