Thomas J. Csordas

Thomas J. Csordas is Professor and Chair of Anthropology and Director of the Global Health Program at the University of California, San Diego. Among his publications are The Sacred Self: A Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing (1994); Embodiment and Experience: The Existential Ground of Culture and Self (1994); Language, Charisma, and Creativity: Ritual Life in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (1997); Body/Meaning/Healing (2002); and Transnational Transcendence: Essays on Religion and Globalization (2009).

Posts by Thomas J. Csordas:

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Practice and performance in ritual language

Practice and performance in ritual languageDoes it make a difference to think of ritual language such as prayer in terms of a relation between practice and performance? I do not mean this in the sense that a musician practices an instrument in preparation for a concert performance, or an athlete practices in preparation for performance in a competition. I mean it in the sense of practice as carrying out a particular activity in a regular or habitual way, in contrast to performance as a marked or highlighted form of action distinct from everyday action and addressed to an actual or imagined audience. Someone may engage in the practice of singing every day, but may also sing every day for an audience, real or imagined. One can identify a continuum of “degree of performance” between informal everyday speech and formal ritual utterance. . . .

Focusing specifically on prayer as a mode of utterance present both in ritual events and in everyday life allows for a rethinking of practice and performance as simultaneous modalities of action. The simultaneity of performance and practice in this theoretical or conceptual sense is not the same as the collapsing of performance into practice in prayer that I observed ethnographically. In this sense, any act of prayer has both a practical and a performative component. Practice is guided by a logic while performance is impelled by a rhetoric. Both are necessary features of prayer as ritual language.

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Monday, November 17th, 2014

Malediction, exorcism, and evil

It is best to begin by considering the word malediction in the simple sense of speaking evil or evil-saying. The idea of evil—male—is conceptually, existentially, morally, and cosmologically complex, so I want to focus first on the saying—diction. I am thinking of an actual utterance: what seems to me the relatively straightforward act of “hurling epithets.” This phrase is felicitous because the notion of hurling emphasizes the physical, embodied, material aspect of malediction as a rhetorical performance. The same recognition of the physicality of utterance is needed to understand why the children’s retort to the bully, “sticks and stone may break my bones but names will never hurt me,” is simply wrong. Names are hurtful insofar as they are no less material than sticks or stones when they are hurled and hit their mark.

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