Today, it is virtually impossible to avoid writing using technology. Whether it’s emails, Facebook statuses, essays, or poetry, we are dependent on our devices if we hope to communicate, submit assignments, or work with a publisher.

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I have written previously about the joys of writing with a pen and paper, and certainly there are times when my eyes ache and I’m backspacing through my fifth attempt at a reasonable sentence and I want to throw my computer out the window. But the benefits of writing with technology cannot be overstated and should not be overlooked.

  1. You never have to let an idea go.  As long as you have your phone on you, you can jot down an idea. There’s no need to find a flat surface or a working pen. No one will look at you strangely for typing into your phone, so even if you are on a crowded bus or at a party, you can subtly get some writing in. Plus, you don’t have to worry about keeping track of that piece of paper you’ve scribbled on – which leads me to my next point:
  2. It’s harder to lose your work.  We’ve all heard (or in my case, experienced) the horror story where a computer goes haywire and years of work disappear. In general, though, with all the opportunities we have to make use of internet backup and external hard drives, it is much harder to lose writing on a computer than writing on paper. For those of us who struggle with organization, having everything safely on our device is fundamental to our continued success.
  3. It’s so easy to edit. There’s nothing quite so frustrating as having to squeeze a correction into the margins or try to work your way through a page doused in white-out. The ease of editing on the computer can help to reduce the pressure to write something perfectly the first time.
  4. The search function. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t search documents for key words. This ability has been of inestimable value for me while writing papers and studying for exams. Combing hundreds of pages of research notes can be avoided simply by typing a couple words into the search bar.
  5. Differently abled? Perhaps technology’s greatest contribution to the writing world is its capacity to accommodate those who may otherwise be unable to get their ideas on paper. Those who have motor or vision issues can benefit hugely from voice recognition software and read-out-loud functions. Anyone who has dyslexia (or a similar learning disability) can benefit from spell and grammar check functions. And, as previously mentioned, anyone who has trouble with organization may find themselves prospering through the use of technology. As a teacher of special needs students, I am thankful for technology a thousand times a day.

rachaelRachael Heffernan recently completed a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

In Theravadan Buddhism, there’s a form of meditation wherein practitioners allow thoughts to enter their minds and dwell there free of judgement. The thought – no matter how potentially upsetting or disturbing – may be calmly turned over, investigated, and conversed with. It may go, or it may stay – either way, the thought is not understood as threatening. It is a part of the learning process.

It is amazing how effective this style of meditation is for untangling webs of anxiety and processing complex emotional issues. Removing the cloud of judgement, and all the fear that accompanies it, allows for the freedom necessary to properly work through difficult issues.

Maybe it should be unsurprising, then, that writing often has the same effect.

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I have found myself, countless times, writing about feelings I didn’t know I had. Thoughts I didn’t know I thought. I have watched, in semi-disembodied disbelief, as my hands seemed to work on their own accord, giving shape to my unconscious.

It is an unsettling experience to sit down intending to write about a specific thing and instead find yourself scribbling unstoppably about things you’ve never thought about. There’s a strange conflict, where your conscious brain struggles to take back control but your bodily unconscious – perhaps because of the writing muscle’s refusal to leave a sentence unfinished, perhaps because your conscious brain is so mesmerized by the novelty of what it is reading – remains in control.

It is a special thing. We so often try to ignore our unconscious. But in the face of a pen that doesn’t judge and a blank sheet of paper, we can engage with ourselves. Our truths can come spilling out and we can read them back.

There is more to the human experience than reason and restraint. Writing has always allowed people to create new worlds; discovering them is not always just for the reader.


rachaelRachael Heffernan recently completed a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

We are constantly engaged with technology, and, sometimes, it can be difficult to justify buying or bringing a notebook when we know that we can just type our work on our laptop, phone, or tablet. Technology affords us many great luxuries, but especially in the initial, frenzied, creative stages of writing, it can be best to go back to basics and pull out a pen and paper. The artistic freedom that a blank page affords can be liberating. While I may find myself frozen and frustrated before a computer screen, there is a special joy that accompanies writing with pen and paper. Below, I have compiled a list of my favourite reasons for going back to basics when I write.

writingwednesdays

Automatic illustrations. Drawing, doodling, scribbling: whatever you call it, being able to add artwork instantly to whatever piece of writing you are working on can help to keep your creative juices flowing. Doodling can help you come up with new ideas, see things in different ways, and can even alleviate anxiety. For readers, illustrations (no matter how crude) can catch the eye, add to the tone, increase dimensionality, and make the piece feel more personal. Difficult to accomplish on the computer, but so automatic with a pen in hand, doodling has some major upsides for creative minds of all varieties.

Change the shape of words. Sometimes words need to be big, or zigzagged, or adorned with curlicues. They may need to be in seven different colours, or dripping with slime, or be spread out all over the page. Maybe you want to insert a word that requires a different alphabet, like Arabic or Ukrainian, right in the middle of your English poem. Something that can be difficult and frustrating to accomplish on the computer can become a fun and invigorating project on paper. Easily being able to make your words look how you want helps to maintain the flow of creativity and can lead to greater satisfaction at the end of your work period.

Spell however you want! Trying to write a short story from the perspective of a child? Are you looking to stretch out or compress words in the song you’re writing? Have you coined a new term? Are you perpetually distracted by your spelling mistakes when all you want is to quickly get an idea down? It can be infuriating to have to go back again and again to change what autocorrect has “fixed” for you, or try to continue on bravely writing amongst the many red underlined words in your document. Writing on paper will never pose this problem.

Format the words on the page easily and quickly. Whether you want words in all four corners of the page but nowhere in between, or spaced out like bricks, or placed in the shape of a dress, writing on paper will always allow you this luxury with the least amount of fuss.

Piece together pieces of different drafts. Have you ever found yourself writing draft after draft of the same idea, sentence, or poem? Well, there’s no easy backspace or delete function when you’re working with paper, and, if you’re like me, even if something was crossed out in a crazed bout of frustration, I can usually still read it. After I have written all my drafts, I can take all the pieces of my brainstorming, take the best from each, and weave them together. On a computer, my ideas are so easily deleted; on paper, they remain traceable.


rachaelRachael Heffernan has recently completed a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

Join us in extending heartfelt congratulations to our very own writer and researcher, Rachael Heffernan, on a successful defense of her Master’s thesis this week. Rachael’s research was on the body of God in the Hebrew Bible.

In the course of her academic career, Rachael has received a number of scholarships and awards, including the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

This article was written by Rachael Heffernan, writer and researcher for The Drawing Board and graduate researcher in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta.

It’s a term that gets used confidently, like we all know what it means, but the first thing that happens in any theory of religion class is to reveal that, in fact, “religion” has no satisfactory definition. No matter how we may try – and try many do – we cannot figure out what makes a religion a religion.

To break this down:

Many definitions of religion centre on the belief in some superhuman power, like angels and deities, but this is problematic for multiple reasons. Firstly, not all major recognized religions include belief in any kind of superhuman power: Theravadan Buddhism is rather adamant about its lack of inclusion of anything transcendental in its worldview.

Secondly, for many, simple belief in a deity or deities is not enough for a person to be considered “religious.” There are behavioural obligations, dress codes, eating restrictions, and so on and so forth, that are understood to be part and parcel to ‘actually’ believing in G/god(s).

Thirdly, even those that do not believe can still be considered, and consider themselves, religious. If one is an atheist but nevertheless attends religious services, reads sacred texts, eats according to religious laws, and observes sacred holidays, would they be viewed as a non-religious person? Maybe by some, but not by all.

Fourthly, without a concrete definition of “superhuman power,” it is impossible to determine the exact qualities of the being(s) in which a person is expected to believe, and it becomes difficult to explain how belief in folk heroes, monsters, and fairies is different from belief in saints, demons, and angels. This problem becomes even further complicated by the fact that though the belief in certain figures (such as angels and ghosts) may be intrinsic to one religion, the belief in those same beings may be abhorred in another. What kind of definition, then, would be capable of differentiating between the religious and non-religious superhuman powers in light of these difficulties?

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The idea that religion can be defined solely based on belief in superhuman powers, then, is a pipe dream. In light of the shortcomings of one-dimensional definitions, some scholars have suggested outlining a number of different criteria of which religions must fulfill at least a few in order to retain their status as religions. These criteria often include things like:

  • Dietary restrictions
  • Sacred texts
  • Sacred buildings
  • Belief in superhuman powers
  • The existence of religious professionals
  • A particular way of dressing
  • Etc.

There are, again, many problems with this style of definition.

Firstly, the criteria that are normally put in place in these lists are drawn from distinctly Western ideas of what constitutes religion. This is perhaps unsurprising, as it is a distinctly Western pursuit to try to discover what religion is, or even to attempt to separate religion from other kinds of human behaviour. Some languages do not even have a word for religion, and many do not consider religion to be a particular set of behaviours within a culture, but rather as fully integrated and inseparable from the culture itself. What happens, then, is that these attempts at definition ultimately fall short in their attempts to define religion on a worldwide scale. They do not take into the account oral cultures, or the fact that eating restrictions may have multiple justifications beyond “religious concerns,” or that sacred spaces are often ill-defined and can appear spontaneously, or that some cultures do not have or see the need for dedicated religious professionals.

Secondly, it is possible for some patterns of behaviour, institutions, or practices that are not normally considered religious to fulfill the criteria outlined in the above definitions. Sports fandom, for example, is often cited as a modern form of religion: there are designated buildings and particular clothing, people arrive en masse to participate in certain events at the same time every year, there are heroes and legends, it includes devoted professionals, and fans (or adherents) treat their team, the events, and the players with reverence. The same problem can be found in a large number of cases: political ideologies, recreational groups, community centres, even online communities may fulfill the criteria necessary to be considered religious.

Thirdly, it is possible for groups who want to enjoy the privileges offered to religious groups to simply ensure that they tick off the boxes necessary to be considered one. It is not so difficult to write a text, call a building “sacred,” wear particular clothes, elect a leader and then *poof* enjoy tax breaks and extended rights and freedoms. Most recently, scientology has been removed of its religion status in Germany and declared a business – pointing out the power differential when it comes to naming what a religion is and who gets that privilege.

And with this, it starts to become apparent why it is important to define religion. I would like to be able to say that it would be fine to simply allow people to call themselves what they want, and leave labels out of it, but I can’t, because the issues surrounding definitions of religion are larger than self-identification. It is not only that recognized religions enjoy considerable privileges in our society, but also that the term religion is used to make blanket-statement condemnations, promote discrimination, and encourage us-vs-them mentalities. When people say “religion is violent,” or “this religion is violent,” they are glossing over the fact that we have no way of determining what religion even is. The end result of this behaviour is often that millions of people are lumped in with the few, and the only solution proposed is if religion, or that religion, is left behind in favour of a ‘superior’ way of life. Root causes of issues are ignored in favour of blaming a porous, ever-changing, inconsistent, undefinable thing.

So define we must, because the more we recognize the issues inherent in our own categorizations, the less we are able to condone worldviews of us-vs-them.

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