Posts Tagged ‘ritual’

July 19th, 2016

Another Law’s Religion

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Law's ReligionI cannot help but see a pun in the title of Benjamin Berger’s book, Law’s Religion: Religious Difference and the Claims of Constitutionalism. I see the pun not in the terms “law” and “religion,” but in the multiple meanings emerging from the possessive marker. I see the pun in Laws. It is a pun of grammar-play, not word-play.

Taken in one way, the possessive ending connotes a proprietary claim. The term law’s religion suggests the idea that law controls religion, holds sway over it. It is this sense of the phrase that appears most prominently in the book. Berger argues that Canadian constitutional law “digests” religion through its own “interpretive horizons,” which contain notably narrow assumptions about the nature of religious time, space, belief, and toleration. Constitutional law does not deal with Canadian religion on its own terms, Berger tells us. Rather, it maintains and deploys its own prototype of religion.

October 21st, 2014

Curses, foiled again and again

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Fijian whale's tooth | Image via Matt TomlinsonIn June 2009, I was interviewing a Fijian Methodist minister on the island of Matuku when the subject of curses came up. I had asked him about mana and sau, terms associated with spiritual power, which are often paired in indigenous Fijian discourse. Mana is anthropologically famous as a term Robert Codrington credited to Melanesians; Marshall Sahlins theorized for Polynesians; and Claude Lévi-Strauss characterized as a “floating signifier,” a sign “susceptible of receiving any meaning at all.” Sau, in Fijian, is often associated with a punitive spiritual force linked to chiefs. If you disobey the chief and you get sick, that’s sau.

When I asked the minister at Matuku about mana and sau, he responded in part by explaining the latter term as follows: “Here’s an example. You say something, [then] it happens. It’s like this, if I should curse you. You will go out today, even if you haven’t heard what I said, you will meet with misfortune. You’ll go and get hurt, eh?…That’s one translation of sau.”

September 12th, 2014

Overlapping senses of salvation

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With a Guatemala’s history of social and political instability, the place of religion in public life is often fraught with tensions and ambiguities, especially with regard to the nature of morality. These issues tend to crop up when the practices of competing religious institutions exit the relatively circumscribed spaces of churches and enter into erstwhile public spaces. The following examples, drawn from my own fieldwork and that of two other ethnographers of Christianity in Guatemala, illustrate these tensions and suggest that greater attention to the sensory dimensions of public religiosity can shed light on the varying ways that religious actors imagine and engage with public spaces.

November 2nd, 2011

Jürgen Habermas on myth and ritual

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This video is an excerpt of a lecture by Jürgen Habermas, delievered at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs on October 19th.

November 2nd, 2011

Where did religion come from?

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When an interviewer for the Atlantic Monthly blog asked me “What prompted you to write this book?” I apparently replied, “Deep desire to know everything: what the universe is and where we are in it.” I don’t deny that I said it—it’s just that I would have thought I would have given a more pedestrian reply, because I am a sociologist, with a Ph.D. in my discipline and some 40 years experience as a professor at Harvard and Berkeley. And I am quite aware that early in the last century Max Weber, in a famous 1918 talk called “Science as a Vocation,” warned that “science has entered a phase of specialization previously unknown and this will forever remain the case.”

August 17th, 2011

A fairy tale cathedral

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The Assumption of the Virgin does not just mark Mary’s ascent to heaven but an annual pilgrimage to one of France’s oldest churches located in one of France’s oldest trees, Chêne Chappelle:

August 15th, 2011

An interdisciplinary exploration of death

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This September 24th, historian, writer, and artist Dr. Paul Koudounaris will open the doors to his first exhibit and book signing of The Empire of Death.

June 30th, 2010

“The Lady Twilight”

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Over at Killing the Buddha, William Dalrymple is excerpting his new book, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India.

June 17th, 2010

Redeeming the Burning Man

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In her newly published book Theater in a Crowded Fire, Lee Gilmore tells the story of the infamous Burning Man Festival, reclaiming its reputation as a specifically spiritual event. Religion Dispatches interviews Gilmore.

December 11th, 2009

Colonialism and conflict

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keaneIf the idea of purification is to retain broad currency across the colonial landscape, it may need to be defined differently, more in terms of separating out truth from falsehood, or the divine from the diabolical, than of fixing boundaries between the spiritual and the material. While questions of ontological difference could be salient in Sumba and certain other mission fields, the distinctions drawn between persons and things in acts of purification fail to account for other important distinctions drawn between persons themselves.

October 28th, 2009

Sacramental poetics

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By its very nature, mystery is much more difficult to speak about, and certainly to track.  But religious ritual claims to offer mystery as well as sociality. It claims to make the transcendent immanent, and transcendence—whether vertical or horizontal, above or beyond—is the sphere of the sacred, of what is beyond our comprehension, control and use. We can point to it, sign it, and by doing so, evoke it. But that “beyond” is more than we can say, hear, touch, taste or even understand.

September 8th, 2009

Rethinking secularism and religion in the global age

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Robert BellahLast September, I sat down at UC-Berkeley with the eminent sociologist of religion, Robert Bellah, for a discussion about religious evolution, the ideas of religion and secularism, the rise of extreme positions associated with both of those terms, and the future of universalistic faiths in an emerging global civil society. The following is an excerpt from our discussion, a full transcript of which is available here (PDF).

February 9th, 2009

Embedded religion in Asia

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<br />The secularity of modern Asian states has by no means led to widespread social secularity, Taylor’s second secularity, a decline of religious belief and practice among ordinary people. The degree of religious practice varies from country to country, but almost everywhere temples, mosques, churches, and shrines are ubiquitous and full of people, especially during festival seasons. Even in China, where the government actively propagates an atheist ideology and has severely restricted open religious activities, it has been estimated that as much as ninety-five percent of the population engages from time to time in some form of religious practice.  Moreover, throughout Asia there have been impressive revivals and reformations of Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian religious beliefs and practices—Asia is religiously dynamic.

October 22nd, 2008

Presidential drinking games, and other secular devotions

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I watched the last presidential debate in a crowded Manhattan restaurant with large-screen TVs and surround sound.  By the end of the night, my drink tab was twice what it normally would have been, and it’s all because of Joe the Plumber. […]

September 20th, 2008

Mind sciences and religious change in America

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Like others in this discussion, I’m not sure that recent neurological studies will dramatically change contemporary religious belief or practice, though my reasons are more historical than philosophical or psychological.  To put it simply, American Christians and Jews—Brooks‘s embattled Bible believers—have shown themselves remarkably adept at harmonizing new scientific insights with older religious notions and practices.  Let me offer three historical examples that illustrate this, and a few final comments concerning the astonishing survival power not of a generic new religion (neural or otherwise) but of an older, doctrinal one: Christianity. […]