Religion in Motion: Rethinking Religion, Knowledge and Discourse in a Globalizing World [1st ed.] 9783030413873, 9783030413880

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Religion in Motion: Rethinking Religion, Knowledge and Discourse in a Globalizing World [1st ed.]
 9783030413873, 9783030413880

Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-x
Introduction (Julian Hensold, Jordan Kynes, Philipp Öhlmann, Vanessa Rau, Rosa Coco Schinagl, Adela Taleb)....Pages 1-12
Old and New Gods: In Conversation with Arjun Appadurai and Michael Lambek (Jordan Kynes, Vanessa Rau, Rosa Coco Schinagl)....Pages 13-26
Front Matter ....Pages 27-27
Ways and Travels of the Sacred Feminine from Brazil to Central Europe Feminine Power and Agency in the Contemporary Umbanda Community Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô (Inga Scharf da Silva)....Pages 29-47
Pleasure from a Theological Perspective (Teresa Forcades i Vila)....Pages 49-56
Hermeneutics of Modern Death: Science, Philosophy and the Brain Death Controversy in Orthodox Judaism (Sarah Werren)....Pages 57-75
Front Matter ....Pages 77-77
New Technologies’ Promise to the Self and the Becoming of the Sacred: Insights from Georges Bataille’s Concept of Transgression (Céline Righi)....Pages 79-99
Faith and Professionalism in Humanitarian Encounters in Post-Earthquake Haiti (Andrea Steinke)....Pages 101-117
Religion and Sustainable Development: The “Secular Distinction” in Development Policy and Its Implication for Development Cooperation with Religious Communities (Philipp Öhlmann, Stefan Hunglinger, Wilhelm Gräb, Marie-Luise Frost)....Pages 119-137
Front Matter ....Pages 139-139
Beyond the Insider—Outsider Perspective: The Study of Religion as a Study of Discourse Construction (Gerhard van den Heever)....Pages 141-164
Beyond a Dichotomy of Perspectives: Understanding Religion on the Basis of Paul Natorp’s Logic of Boundary (Julian Hensold)....Pages 165-197
Front Matter ....Pages 199-199
Making Global Connections: Critical Pedagogy and the Decolonization of History (Harun Rasiah)....Pages 201-219
The Function of Bachelardian Epistemology in the Post-colonial Project of Mohammed ‘Abed al-Jabri (Jordan Kynes)....Pages 221-237
Rethinking the Religion/Secularism Binary in Global Politics (Abdul Gaffar)....Pages 239-255

Citation preview

Julian Hensold · Jordan Kynes  Philipp Öhlmann · Vanessa Rau  Rosa Coco Schinagl · Adela Taleb   Editors

Religion in Motion

Rethinking Religion, Knowledge and Discourse in a Globalizing World

Religion in Motion

Julian Hensold  •  Jordan Kynes Philipp Öhlmann  •  Vanessa Rau Rosa Coco Schinagl  •  Adela Taleb Editors

Religion in Motion Rethinking Religion, Knowledge and Discourse in a Globalizing World

Editors Julian Hensold Faculty of Theology Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Berlin, Germany

Jordan Kynes Faculty of Theology Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Berlin, Germany

Philipp Öhlmann Research Programme on Religious Communities and Sustainable Development Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Berlin, Germany

Vanessa Rau Department of Socio-Cultural Diversity Max-Planck-Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity Göttingen, Lower-Saxony, Germany

University of Pretoria Pretoria, South Africa Heidelberg University Heidelberg, Germany

Adela Taleb Institute for European Ethnology Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Berlin, Germany

Rosa Coco Schinagl Faculty of Theology Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Berlin, Germany

ISBN 978-3-030-41387-3    ISBN 978-3-030-41388-0 (eBook) © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are reserved by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors, and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. This Springer imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


This volume would not have come into being without the generous support from the KOSMOS programmer of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, which provided the financial means to make the conference and the given volume a truly global endeavour. The workshop funding allowed us to achieve our goal and make possible to invite several scholars from the ‘Global South’. It is therefore that the KOSMOS funding helped us ‘provincialize Europe’ (as Dipesh Chakrabarty prominently suggested) and truly break paths in the international laboratory on religion that took place at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in February 2017. This volume emerged out of the conference “Religion—Bridging Gaps and Breaking Paths. Contemporary Approaches to the Study of Religion, Knowledge and Discourse”. The conference was organised as an explorative laboratory, cherishing encounter and exchange over competing disciplinary truth claims. The editors owe special thanks to the Senior Advisors of the 2017 conference, Arjun Appadurai, Teresa Forcades i Vila, Michael Lambek, Ruth Mas and William Storrar. We particularly thank our academic advisors and intellectual mentors, Andreas Feldtkeller, Regina Römhild and Wilhelm Gräb who provided superb support as well as the coordinator of the graduate programme Dominika Hadrysiewicz for her enduring assistance. We particularly thank all anonymous peer-reviewers, whose insightful comments and suggestions have significantly contributed to shaping this volume. Last but not least, we thank Daniel Ross and Phillip John Angelina for their excellent editorial assistance. Berlin, Germany Julian Hensold May 2020 Jordan Kynes Philipp Öhlmann Vanessa Rau Rosa Coco Schinagl Adela Taleb



Introduction������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������    1 Julian Hensold, Jordan Kynes, Philipp Öhlmann, Vanessa Rau, Rosa Coco Schinagl, and Adela Taleb  Old and New Gods: In Conversation with Arjun Appadurai and Michael Lambek ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������   13 Jordan Kynes, Vanessa Rau, and Rosa Coco Schinagl Part I Religion, Gender, Body and Aesthetics: Stagnation or Change in the Authority over Religious Knowledge Production  Ways and Travels of the Sacred Feminine from Brazil to Central Europe Feminine Power and Agency in the Contemporary Umbanda Community Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô��������������������������������������������������   29 Inga Scharf da Silva Pleasure from a Theological Perspective�������������������������������������������������������   49 Teresa Forcades i Vila  Hermeneutics of Modern Death: Science, Philosophy and the Brain Death Controversy in Orthodox Judaism ����������������������������   57 Sarah Werren Part II Religion, Economics and Development: Interaction of Discursive Spheres  New Technologies’ Promise to the Self and the Becoming of the Sacred: Insights from Georges Bataille’s Concept of Transgression ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������   79 Céline Righi




 Faith and Professionalism in Humanitarian Encounters in Post-Earthquake Haiti��������������������������������������������������������������������������������  101 Andrea Steinke  Religion and Sustainable Development: The “Secular Distinction” in Development Policy and Its Implication for Development Cooperation with Religious Communities ����������������������������������������������������  119 Philipp Öhlmann, Stefan Hunglinger, Wilhelm Gräb, and Marie-­Luise Frost Part III Theological and Religious Knowledge Production: Overcoming the Dichotomy Between Inside and Outside Perspective(s) on Religion  Beyond the Insider—Outsider Perspective: The Study of Religion as a Study of Discourse Construction������������������������������������������������������������  141 Gerhard van den Heever  Beyond a Dichotomy of Perspectives: Understanding Religion on the Basis of Paul Natorp’s Logic of Boundary������������������������������������������  165 Julian Hensold Part IV Religion, Politics and Power: Decentred Analyses  Making Global Connections: Critical Pedagogy and the Decolonization of History������������������������������������������������������������������  201 Harun Rasiah  The Function of Bachelardian Epistemology in the Post-colonial Project of Mohammed ‘Abed al-Jabri ����������������������������������������������������������  221 Jordan Kynes  Rethinking the Religion/Secularism Binary in Global Politics��������������������  239 Abdul Gaffar


Arjun  Appadurai  Institute for European Ethnology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany Inga Scharf da Silva  Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany Marie-Luise Frost  Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa Abdul Gaffar  Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India Wilhelm Gräb  Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa Julian  Hensold  Faculty of Theology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany Stefan Hunglinger  Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany Jordan  Kynes  Faculty of Theology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany Michael Lambek  University of Toronto Scarborough, Scarborough, ON, Canada Philipp  Öhlmann  Research Programme on Religious Communities and Sustainable Development, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany Harun Rasiah  Holy Names University, Oakland, CA, USA Vanessa  Rau  Department of Socio-Cultural Diversity, Max-Planck-Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, Lower-Saxony, Germany Céline Righi  Independent Schola, London, UK




Rosa Coco Schinagl  Faculty of Theology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany Andrea Steinke  Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany Adela  Taleb  Institute for European Ethnology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany Gerhard van den Heever  University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa Teresa Forcades i Vila  Monestir Sant Benet Montserrat, Barcelona, Spain Sarah Werren  University Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland

Introduction Julian Hensold, Jordan Kynes, Philipp Öhlmann, Vanessa Rau, Rosa Coco Schinagl, and Adela Taleb

Abstract  This first chapter serves as the reader’s initial orientation to the general layout of the present work. It begins by thematizing the ineffable dynamism and complexity of the term religion as signifier. Contrary to the long-reigning secularization thesis, this single term remains deeply entrenched in a broad spectrum of discursive frameworks, traversing both popular social imaginaries as well as academic disciplinary divides. Amid this constant state of flux, one can only say with certainty that religion is here to stay. In spite of this complexity, the present edition proposes a way forward, offering a cross-section of some of these fascinating developments via an introductory interview and four thematically-organized sections; Part I: Religion, Gender, Body and Aesthetics – Stagnation or Change in the Authority over Religious Knowledge Production, Part II: Religion, Economics and Development – Interaction of Discursive Spheres; Part III: Theological and Religious Knwoledge Production: Overcoming the Dichotomy between Inside and Outside Perspective(s) on Religion; and IV: Religion, Politics, Power – Decentered Analyses.

J. Hensold (*) · J. Kynes · R. C. Schinagl Faculty of Theology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany e-mail: [email protected] P. Öhlmann Research Programme on Religious Communities and Sustainable Development, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany e-mail: [email protected] V. Rau Department of Socio-Cultural Diversity, Max-Planck-Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, Lower-Saxony, Germany e-mail: [email protected] A. Taleb Institute for European Ethnology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 J. Hensold et al. (eds.), Religion in Motion,



J. Hensold et al. We live in a time, we teach at a time, when religions are in center stage of history, have marched into the center stage and, in the center of the stage, enact and speak. (Laurie Zoloth, 2014)

Undeniably, Religion is in motion: in the light of contemporary political climates marked by motion and change, neo-nationalist agitation, populism and demarcated identity constructions, religion plays a vibrant role. Its multifaceted and versatile character is present in the academic landscapes in the Global North and South. Its discursive signature can be traced in a variety of fields such as politics,1 economics,2 sociology3 and anthropology.4 In terms of key words prominently permeating and stimulating today’s academic discourses about human affairs worldwide, religion is certainly among the most ubiquitous.5 Seen against the backdrop of a changing global world order—entanglements of inequalities and asymmetries, financial and economic crises, ethnic and religio-­ cultural conflicts, vicious wars and war zones, terrorism, forced flight and migration, anti-democratic and populist tendencies and an apparent shift to nationalist conservatism—religion asserts itself as one of the most frequently used buzzwords in contemporary (not only academic) discussions. Prominent examples are the Muslim ban initiated and passed by US President Trump, the seemingly insatiable will to discuss headscarves across Western European nation-states, the prominence of Islam in debates over refugees’ presence and “integration” into Western European societies or the way in which gender and religion intersect in debates on religious belonging. The latter was most present in debates over the “Muslim man” emerging after incidents on New Year’s Eve 2015/2016 in Cologne. Despite the often fiercely levelled attacks on religion’s supposed backwardness and the necessity for a secular society, contemporary societies have also witnessed a vibrancy of emergent religious pluralisms and its contributions to a diverse and exuberant cultural life, especially in global cities.6 Remarkably, it is precisely in correlation with this charged and crisis-laden context that religion attracts attention from scholars across the academic spectrum.7 Almost notoriously, religion is strategically used in numerous different and seemingly unrelated academic discussions.8 Yet, the current prominence of religion in academic and intellectual knowledge production certainly did not come overnight. Attempts to explain away this discursive phenomenon in its distinct and long-term relevance as merely momentous and transient—e.g. as an epiphenomenon of

 Arnason and Karolewski (2014), Vlas and Boari (2013), Rowe (2012), Haynes (2014).  Iyer (2016), Barro and McCleary (2003), Guiso et al. (2003). 3  Bender et al. (2013), Berger (2005). 4  Obadia and Wood (2011), Nussbaum (2012). 5  Daniel et al. (2012). 6  Sassen (2001). 7  Omer et al. (2015). 8  Haynes (2014). 1 2



Europe’s ongoing refugee and migrant ‘crisis’—are short-sighted to say the least. Trading under the name of a “Return of Religion”, the signifier religion, after decades of its seeming and claimed disappearance from the public intellectual sphere, already started to announce its renaissance in the early 1990s shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain. With increasing intensity, it has spread its discursive signature ever since.9 This historical perspective demonstrates that the correlation— which by no means should be mistaken for a one-sided causal dependence—of a re-emerging academic interest in religion on the one hand and epochal caesura and transformation(s) on the other is long-standing and persistent with nothing pointing to its foreseeable end. However, just below the surface of the discursive relevance of the term religion across disciplinary divides also lies a rich polyvalence of its meaning, often polarizing and rarely undisputed. Not least, these disputes and discrepancies in content and intent have tended to crystalize along inter- and intra-disciplinary divides to such an extent that the question of what religion signifies becomes largely a function of who invokes it and towards what end. Moreover, religion is not only a prominent discursive category, but as a phenomenon undergirds institutional, communal, political, social and economic realities.10 Precisely because of its general significance for a myriad of discourses in all their thematic, theoretical, methodical and intentional diversity, an adequate understanding of religion has proven to be a practically inexhaustible point of contention. Taking into account both its timeliness and relevance correlative to a drastically changing or actually crumbling world order as well as its complexity and controversiality, religion calls for a transcultural as well as transdisciplinary synergy of perspectives.11 A useful tool guiding such collective efforts of mediation can be the basic idea that the signifier religion, beyond all given contextual differences, stands for an institutionally and/or habitually stabilized dealing with the inevitability of human creation of meaning specifically in its ultimate radicality.12 In that sense religious discourses and knowledge production are asking and answering ultimately radical questions such as: “What is?”, “what should be?” and “what will come?” etc. Against this conceptual backdrop, the correlation of the discursive reappearance of religion with historical shifts of epochal significance is not contingent on religion but rather an irreducible part of its constitution. To create and catalyse synergies of perspectives concerning the study of religion, the “Religion, Knowledge, Discourse” (RKD) doctoral programme of Humboldt-­ Universität zu Berlin organized a conference entitled “Religion  –  Bridging Gaps and Breaking Paths; Contemporary Approaches towards Discourses of Religion”. The conference was designed as a transdisciplinary research laboratory; a space for junior and senior scholars from the Global North and South to bring their contextual

 Casanova et al. (1994), Beyer and Beaman (2007), Bhambra (2007), Butler et al. (2011).  McCutcheon (2003). 11  Juergensmeyer (2003). 12  Geertz (1973), Taylor (2007), Bergunder (2011), Gerhardt (2014). 9



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and disciplinary diversity into constructive dialogue. In February 2017, over the course of three days, voices from a great variety of cultural and academic backgrounds explored contemporary approaches towards religion(s), the “situated-­ ness”13 and contextual formation of religion and (religious) knowledge production. The present volume is the collective result of this engagement, covering a broad variety of material, which reflects a timely cross section of academic discourses on religion and beyond. The aim is to trace the discursive threads evolving around the concept of religion—which is “in motion” itself—in different contexts and from transdisciplinary perspectives. By bringing together manifold empirical and theoretical contributions the volume allows us to follow these threads and to increase our understanding of contemporary discourses of religion and knowledge production in various fields and the contemporary context they are embedded in. As such, the work can be a valuable resource to scholars engaged with the study of religion, regardless of disciplinary affiliation. The individual contributions to this work echo the aforementioned basic idea of religion: instead of simply restating the complexity and controversiality of religion in an aporetic fashion, each chapter embraces and implements the particular potential of religion to evoke fundamental questions of human life and affairs. In the interest of accessibility, these contributions are organized according to four central themes, to which the reader may refer in accordance with his/her primary thematic interest: (1) Religion, Gender, Body and Aesthetics: Stagnation or Change in the Authority over Religious Knowledge Production; (2) Religion, Economics and Development: Interaction of Discursive Spheres; (3) Theological and Religious Knowledge Production: Overcoming the Dichotomy between Inside and Outside Perspective(s) on Religion; and (4) Religion, Politics, Power: Decentred Analyses. The editors trust that the reader will venture beyond their initial point of entry to gain an appreciation of the mutual entanglements which the contributions collectively entail.

“ New and Old Gods”: In Conversation with Arjun Appadurai and Michael Lambek This volume opens with a conversation between the editors and anthropologists Arjun Appadurai and Michael Lambek. In the quiet seclusion of the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin, Appadurai and Lambek reflected not only on the content and experience of the conference, but on the space—the cityscape, in Appadurai’s terms—itself within which it took place. The city of Berlin, no stranger to the changing fortunes of time, finds itself once again—or still?—in a phase of considerable cultural, intellectual and economic flux. As such, one can hardly imagine a more suitable space to consider the existential concerns of the researchers in a rapidly changing world. During the conversation, Appadurai and Lambek not only


 Cf. Haraway (1988).



expanded on the specific and changing spaces of doing research, but also on the trajectory of the researchers themselves. Trained in US-American departments of anthropology, both senior researchers reflected upon the changing conditions at universities, in the light of globalizing and neo-liberalizing forces. Together with the three junior researchers, they reflected upon the impacts of this new globalized world order and its implications for doing academic work as well as the fields of (religious) research themselves. In that sense, the conversation of “Old and New Gods” takes the conference and the city of Berlin as a starting point and relates it to current developments in social and political as well as academic life. By doing so, it presents the often-lacking and vitally needed meta-analytical conversation on research on religion, in short on “religion in motion”. The rare opportunity for this kind of exchange, involving the past and future of research on religion and academia, which tend to be less-openly discussed within the confines of the university, was at once cathartic and refreshing. Perhaps even more refreshing, and reassuring, was the apparent enthusiasm of the esteemed anthropologists for the city of Berlin. Drawing from experiences both past and present, the senior researchers speak openly about their cultural encounters in this city which espouses the virtues of tradition and innovation, seemingly at the same time. Departing from the themes of our opening discussion, we then proceed to the first of our four sections.

 art I: Religion, Gender, Body and Aesthetics—Stagnation P or Change in the Authority Over Religious Knowledge Production In the spirit of perspectival inclusion, the first section, “Religion, Gender, Body and Aesthetics”, begins with a collection of “embodied” approaches to the study of religion; formerly marginalized perspectives exhibiting a keen awareness of the significance of gender, body, performance and even technology in religious praxis, interpretations and cultural representations and productions. As such, they present targeted challenges to traditional rigidities—orthodoxies both academic and religious. Bodily practices, and the body itself, have long been marginal to research on religion, and the same may be said about many of the voices emanating from these bodies. The feminist and queer perspectives among the contributions in this section are an enriching addition to research, not least of all because of their radical divergence from the traditional producers and enforcers of (heteronormative and androcentric) orthodoxy. As a whole, these divergent voices and approaches share a broad concern with reinterpretations and contemporary approaches to ethics, (religious) belonging, as well as transformation of theologies amid a rapidly changing world, evoking often overlooked discussions on popular culture and going beyond the Global North.


J. Hensold et al.

This is most explicit in the article “Feminine Power and Agency in the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô”, where Inga Scharf da Silva takes us to the globally active religious movement of the Umbanda. Her multi-sited ethnography in Brazil and Berlin highlights the centrality of female priesthood and the material significance of female ownership. In so doing, her work enriches the understanding of the negotiation of gender positions inside religious communities and the way in which religious communities seek to perform resistances by way of performing, cultivating and establishing alternative ways of (religious) life and worship. Teresa Forcades i Vila’s “Pleasure from a Theological Perspective” draws on the rich writings offered by Teresa of Avila. Starting from an auto-ethnographic positionality of a Benedictine nun, Forcades engages in an exciting connection between her own experiences and those of her namesake. In exploring the writings of the Saint, Forcades i Vila shows how the body, bodily experiences, pleasure and the erotic were not absent from Christian thought, writings and the Catholic tradition, but were indeed inside of it. Drawing and engaging in Saint Teresa’s historical documents and writings, Forcades i Vila connects it to her “queer theology”. The latter presents an understanding of God which is in correspondence with the human body, sexuality, desire and pleasure. This sets the ground for a gender-queer theology and most pointedly overcomes traditional mind–body dualisms. In “Dead or Dying. Jewish Religious Cultures and Brain Death as the Modern Mind–Body Dualism”, Sarah Werren equally reconsiders traditional dualisms and discusses the bioethical issues of brain death and organ transplantation in relation to Jewish orthodoxy. Using this example, she demonstrates how the human body can present the centre of theological discussions and interpretations. Werren vividly shows how rabbinic discussions and interpretations are at the heart of Jewish tradition and its religious practice. Taking the body and brain death as a starting point, this article thus demonstrates that the body is central in Jewish tradition and practice and never absent from it. Connecting historical and contemporary debates over death and dying in Jewish traditions, Werren then succinctly highlights the necessity and urgency of bringing “the body back in” since it has, so she demonstrates, always been central to religion and religious practice.

 art II: Religion, Economics and Development—Interaction P of Discursive Spheres The second section, “Religion, Economics and Development—Interaction of Discursive Spheres”, invites the reader to reconsider the increasingly untenable secular-religious dichotomy in the study of religion, economics and development. Sparked by a recent interest in development policymakers and development economists, religion (re-)entered the discursive spheres of economics and development around the turn of the century.14 Earlier contributions, such as Adam Smith’s


 Swart and Nell (2016), Ver Beek (2000).



treatment of religion, Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and Eisenstadt’s notion of religion’s “transformative capacity”, are beginning to resurface in the development debate.15 The section focuses on the fundamental ideological presuppositions underlying discourses on socioeconomic structures and processes. These structures and processes are to a large extent rooted in discursive spheres marked by a “secular distinction”: they are seen as part of a secular, or profane, realm, in contrast to a religious, or sacred, realm. This causes inherent tensions, as religion has to be conceptually secularized to fit into the categories available in these secular discourses. As religion enters (in their own perspective) secular spheres such as economics and development, friction is generated between “religious” and “secular” discourses, which each in their own right are (largely mutually exclusive) forms of creating reality through specific use of language.16 The three contributions in this section focus on this field of tension from different empirical and theoretical perspectives and thereby challenge the “secular distinction” from different angles. Celine Righi offers a conceptual treatment of the interaction of notions of sacredness and neoliberal technologies relating both to religious studies and political economy. In her contribution, “New Technologies’ Promise to the Self and the Becoming of the Sacred: Insights from Georges Bataille’s Concept of Transgression”, she uses George Bataille’s account of the sacred to scrutinize the self-empowerment promises of new technologies. Neoliberalism’s technological promises are juxtaposed with Bataille’s notions of eroticism in the sacred and transgression and their inherent emancipative potential against power. Righi relates this to Stiegler’s critique exploring the ambiguous relation of sacredness, magic and power within contemporary neoliberalism. Focusing on the Haitian context, Andrea Steinke deconstructs binary readings of (religious) faith and (secular) professionalism in her paper “Faith and Professionalism in Humanitarian Encounters in Post-Earthquake Haiti”. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, her analysis of two religious development organizations, Caritas Jacmel and Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, shows the dynamic interrelation of religious identity and professionalism in humanitarian work. Humanitarians active in post-disaster Haiti, she argues, constitute “mediants that produce materialities” with transcendental underpinnings, be it religious faith or secular moral imperatives dictated by contemporary humanitarianism. Steinke highlights that faith and professionalism are not antipodes, but rather both constitute essential dimensions contributing to the impact of the work of religious development organizations. This relates well to the article “Religion and Sustainable Development: The ‘Secular Distinction’ in Development Policy and its Implication for Development Cooperation with Religious Communities” by Philipp Öhlmann, Stefan Hunglinger, Marie-Luise Frost and Wilhelm Gräb. Using the example of German official development policy, the authors juxtapose dominant Western notions of

15 16

 Smith (1992), Weber (1958), Eisenstadt (1968).  Feldtkeller (2014).


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development with views on development by religious communities in Africa and argue that notions of development constitute situated knowledge. They show that the recent discourse on “religion and development” takes place in a secular framework and thus fails to account for the perspective of the actors themselves, in whose perspective the “secular distinction” does not exist. This has implications for development policy: if development cooperation, as it claims, is to engage with religious communities at the level of values, ideas and beliefs, it must also engage with their notions of development as ends of mutual partnership.

 art III: Theological and Religious Knowledge Production: P Overcoming the Dichotomy between Inside and Outside Perspective(s) on Religion Religion, just like any other institutionally organized formation of subjectivity, has to be able to productively relate to, regulate and (re-)form itself and its praxis. Present-day academic theologies, with their specific task of theological knowledge production, may be understood as vehicles for the professionalized intellectual self-­ relation and self-regulation of religion basing on continuous knowledge transfers with other academic disciplines. As a result, academic theologies, unlike for example sociology, ethnology, psychology, philosophy or cultural studies per definitionem display a unique institutional double “nature”: they are both of religious as well as of academic “nature” and so is their production of knowledge. Due to their institutional intermediary positionality, however, academic theologies, more than other academic disciplines (also interested in religion), are forced to face a well-known challenge regarding the intellectual involvement with religion posing nothing less than an existential threat to them: the challenge of overcoming the basic problem of a fixed dichotomy between phenomenal-experiential and habitual insider perspectives of religious practitioners (‘emic’) on the one hand and academic or intellectual outsider perspectives on religious practitioners (‘etic’) on the other. Succeeding in this challenge is the very condition of possibility for academic theologies, for if they are unable to surmount the said dilemma, which would imply the mutual exclusion of one perspective through the other, they cannot at all or at least not properly fulfil their intermediary function. Further unfolding the basic problem of a dogmatically fixed and substantial insider–outsider disjunction unveils two main problem levels: the epistemological and, as an immediate consequence, methodological problem level and the (meta-)political problem level concerning an adequate engagement with and for religion. Each in their own way the section’s contributions directly target the basic problem with differing respect towards its two main levels by answering the following guiding question: are there new or previously unexplored strategies or approaches to constructively bridge this dichotomy of perspectives?



In his programmatic essay, “The Study of Religion as the Study of Discourse Construction”, Gerhard van den Heever introduces an innovative option for a meta-theoretical self-description of theology as well as other disciplines (or discourses) interested in the study of religion as a justifying base of their work explicitly including religiously motivated political interventions. The concrete innovativeness of Heever’s contribution lies in the idea of a reconciliation of the divide between a phenomenological perspective and a Foucauldian discourse-­ analytical perspective, which Heever perceptively interprets as an echo of the insider–outsider dichotomy, through a meta-theory of scholarly production. On the basis of this meta-theory both theological and other scholarship on religion as well as religion itself can be analysed or described as discourses of world-making. That way the perspectival difference between insider and outsider is no longer a difference in kind. Consequently, the scholar of religion—if he/she sees the necessity— can interpret his/her own doing as a religious act or an act of religiously motivated (meta-)political activism. In a theological-philosophical attempt to tackle the basic problem of a (substantial) dichotomy of perspectives from its very (logico-)metaphysical roots, Julian Hensold’s “Beyond a Dichotomy of Perspectives. Understanding Religion on the Basis of Paul Natorp’s ‘Logic of Boundary’” centrally presents Paul Natorp’s— largely unknown—late post-Neo-Kantian work on a non-reductionist as well as non-essentialist reconception of the notion of religion. Following Natorp’s “Logic of Boundary” he argues that religion neither operates “‘within’ nor ‘beyond’ the boundary” of human reason but “exactly on [or ‘in’] this boundary”, making religion not only accessible (meaning understandable) for but also justifiable through academic knowledge production such as theology and other humanities. Unreservedly and radically explicating “sense” as the principial medium of its own performance, academic knowledge production—nolens volens—has to position itself “in” the boundary of human reason and, thereby, enters the very dimension (of knowledge production) in which religion operates. As a result, the problematic inside–outside divide regarding an adequate realization of religion is sublated or mediated while at the same time religion’s claim(s) of first and last positive knowledge reveal(s) as principially justified.

Part IV: Religion, Politics, Power—Decentred Analyses In the fourth section, we explore the crucial significance of epistemic positioning in regulating the dissemination of knowledge. Ever since Michel Foucault and Edward Said became household names, the idea that discursive frameworks shape notions of power, legitimacy and authenticity has become common fare. What each contribution in this section emphasizes, however, is the role that location and positioning play in these processes. With an increased focus on the migration of knowledge, it becomes apparent that even essentially similar discourses reproduced in distinct contexts lead to vastly different, even contrary results. This applies as much to


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“secular” discourses posing as religious nationalism, to a French discourse on the natural sciences enlisted to make a claim for Arab-Islamic cultural renaissance, and to the reintroduction of historiographically suppressed epistemologies as a pedagogical practice. In “Making Global Connections: Critical Pedagogy and the Decolonization of History”, Harun Rasiah offers a decentred approach to critical pedagogy in undergraduate courses on Islam and modern Middle Eastern History. He begins with critical media literacy as a requisite skill for deconstructing and challenging both popular and academic representations of Islam and the Middle East. His approach is undergirded by a deep appreciation for the role of hegemonic historical narratives in the construction of political imaginaries. To the extent that students seriously engage epistemological alternatives, distinct cartographies, contextual practices of knowledge production, suppressed intellectual genealogies—they open themselves to historical alternatives, making them less reliant upon more conventional narratives for building their own intellectual orientations. Rasiah emphasizes the importance of binding knowledge to experience, which he promotes via an academic excursion of American students to Granada’s Alhambra and the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. In “The Function of Bachelardian Epistemology in the Post-colonial Project of M.A. al-Jabri”, Jordan Kynes explores the intrinsically political function of historical epistemology in the dual discursive contexts of interwar France (Bachelardian epistemology) and the post-1967 Arab debates over cultural “authenticity” between the “tradition” and “modernity”. In the latter context, Moroccan philosopher Mohammed ‘Abed al-Jabri appeals in part to Gaston Bachelard in a project of cultural renaissance circumscribed by notions of religious tradition. In doing so, however, Al-Jabri did not simply translate Bachelard’s concepts into Arabic, but found in his ostensibly apolitical musings on the natural sciences the articulation of an Arab-Islamic renaissance on its own terms. From al-Jabri’s decentered perspective, Bachelard’s justification for the methodological independence of scientific communities (les cités savantes), which inspired a generation of post-­modern thinkers in the West, is transformed into a political project for an Arab-­Islamic Enlightenment. In “Rethinking the Religion/Secularism Binary in Global Politics”, Mohammad Abdul Gaffar argues for the dislodging of the Global South from the Western-­ centric “imperialism of categories”; its “religious-secular” binary imposed through “objective” notions of history and exclusive formulations of identity. Departing from modern scholarship on the so-called “religious resurgence”, Gaffar focuses on the context of South Asia to explore parallel discursive developments in Hindu and Islamic nationalism as articulated by V.D. Savarkar and M.A. Jinnah, respectively. He highlights the secularist foundations of political religion in the hope of making room for the temporal pluralities and transcendence of everyday religion. By means of discourse analysis, Gaffar shows that, contrary to the explicit claims of these thinkers, their secular impulses remain intact beyond their self-proclaimed turn towards religious communalism as the foundation for the modern state.



References Arnason, Johann P., and Ireneusz Pawel Karolewski. 2014. Religion and politics. Edinburgh: European and Global Perspectives. Barro, Robert, and Rachel McCleary. 2003. Religion and economic growth across countries. American Sociological Review 68 (5): 760–781. Bender, Courtney, Wendy Cadge, Peggy Levitt, and David Smilde, eds. 2013. Religion on the edge. De-centering and re-centering the sociology of religion. New York: Oxford University Press. Berger, Peter L., ed. 2005. The desecularization of the world: Resurgent religion and world politics. B. Washington, DC: Eerdmans Publishing. Bergunder, Michael. 2011. Was isn’t religion? Kulturwissenschaftliche Überlegungen zum Gegenstand der Religionswissenschaft. Zeitschrift für Religionswissenschaft 19 (1/2): 3–55. Beyer, Peter, and Lori G. Beaman. 2007. Religion, globalization and culture. Leiden: Brill. Bhambra, Gurminder K. 2007. Rethinking modernity. Postcolonial and sociological imagination. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Butler, Judith, Eduardo Mendieta, and Jonathan Van Antwerpen. 2011. The power of religion in the public sphere. New York: Columbia University Press. Casanova, José, et  al. 1994. Public religions in the modern world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Daniel, Anna, Franka Schäfer, and Frank Hillebrandt. 2012. Doing modernity – doing religion. Wiesbaden: Springer. Eisenstadt, Shmuel N. 1968. The protestant ethic thesis in an analytical and comparative framework. In The protestant ethic and modernization: A comparative view, ed. Shmuel N.  Eisenstadt, 3–45. New York: Basic Books. Feldtkeller, Andreas. 2014. Umstrittene Religionswissenschaft: Für eine Neuvermessung ihrer Beziehung zur Säkularisierungstheorie. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt. Geertz, Clifford. 1973. Religion as a cultural system. In The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays, ed. Clifford Geertz, 87–125. New York: Fontana Press. Gerhardt, Volker. 2014. Der Sinn des Sinns: Versuch über das Göttliche. München: Beck. Guiso, Luigi, Paola Sapienza, and Luigi Zingales. 2003. People’s opium? Religion and economic attitudes. Journal of Monetary Economics 50 (1): 225–282. Haraway, Donna. 1988. Situated knowledges: the science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. Feminist Studies 14 (3): 575–599. Haynes, Jeffrey. 2014. Religion in global politics. Hoboken: Taylor & Francis. Iyer, Sriya. 2016. The new economics of religion. Journal of Economic Literature 54 (2): 395–441. Juergensmeyer, Mark. 2003. Global religions: An introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Laurie Zoloth, 2014. AAR Presidential Address: Interrupting Your Life: An Ethics for the Coming Storm, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 84, Issue 1, March 2016, Pages 3–24, McCutcheon, Russell T. 2003. The discipline of religion: Structure, meaning, rhetoric. London: Routledge. Nussbaum, Martha Craven. 2012. The new religious intolerance: Overcoming the politics of fear in an anxious age. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Obadia, Lionel, and Donald C.  Wood. 2011. The economics of religion: Anthropological approaches. Bingley: Emerald. Omer, Atalia, R. Scott Appleby, and David Little. 2015. The Oxford handbook of religion, conflict, and peacebuilding. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Rowe, Paul S. 2012. Religion and global politics. Don Mills: Oxford University Press. Sassen, Saskia. 2001. The global city: New  York, London, Tokyo. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Smith, Adam. 1992. The wealth of nations. London: Random House. Swart, Ignatius, and Elsabé Nell. 2016. Religion and development. The rise of a bibliography. HTS Theological Studies 72 (4).


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Taylor, Charles. 2007. A secular age. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Ver Beek, Kurt A. 2000. Spirituality: a development taboo. Development in Practice 10 (1): 31–43. Vlas, Natalia, and Vasile Boari. 2013. Religion and politics in the 21st century: Global and local reflections. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Weber, Max. 1958. The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. New York: Scribner.

Old and New Gods: In Conversation with Arjun Appadurai and Michael Lambek Jordan Kynes, Vanessa Rau, and Rosa Coco Schinagl

Abstract  “Old and New Gods: in Conversation with Arjun Appadurai and Michael Lambek” introduces the reader to some of the broader themes of the work – appropriately – through dialogue; a casual discussion between three young researchers and two distinguished anthropologists. Here the passage of time is thematized as the latter reflect on the various institutional and intellectual changes which they have witnessed leading up to the present; a point in time which constitutes for the junior researchers, a point of departure into an uncertain but exciting future. Furthermore, as with all dialogue, context and location is significant. Though Berlin’s status as a cultural and creative metropole is widely-confirmed, it remains in many ways ‘a house divided unto itself’. No two areas in Berlin are exactly alike, and the young and senior researchers – relative ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ to the city, respectively – explore together its many contours, textures, and contrasts.

Stage: Berlin, Grunewald A few months after the research laboratory ‘Bridging Gaps and Breaking Paths’ took place in Berlin, three junior researchers—young dynamic academics brimming with questions—made their way across Berlin from the ceaseless commotion of Neukölln to the sleepy sprawl of Grunewald to meet with two of the event’s distinguished guests; Arjun Appadurai and Michael Lambek. They meet Michael Lambek in the mansion-like villa of the Wissenschaftskolleg Berlin, where he had spent a year as a residential fellow. Lambek holds a professorship in Anthropology at the University of Toronto in Scarborough where he specialized in the anthropology of religion and has become especially well-known for his work on ethics and ritual and J. Kynes · R. C. Schinagl Faculty of Theology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany V. Rau (*) Department of Socio-Cultural Diversity, Max-Planck-Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, Lower-Saxony, Germany e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 J. Hensold et al. (eds.), Religion in Motion,



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Islam and had carried out fieldwork in the Indian Ocean islands of Mayotte and Madagascar. The manorial space of the Wissenschaftskolleg brings a certain atmosphere to our encounter with the two professors, one which differs from the University atmosphere at the Department of Theology. Arjun Appadurai arrives in haste. Holding a professorship in Anthropology at New  York University, he had also spent the academic year as a guest professor at the Institute for European Ethnology at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. The ensuing conversation rejoined various themes from Appadurai’s and Lambek’s keynote lectures,1 giving all a chance to reconnect and reflect—not only on the conference itself, but on its location in one of the most dynamic and in some ways self-­contradictory capital cities in Europe. As is so often the case with international conferences, the level of excitement and intellectual rigor leaves less time and energy for shared exploration of the physical site of the encounter, which tends to serve only as the scenery and setting of the production. In this conversation, however, the conference becomes much more a prop; a shared point of reference inviting us, the “junior researchers” and the two anthropologists to reflect more individually on their experiences with the space where this exchange of ideas occurred. With its many historical layers and divisions, Berlin is a living testament to the changing fortunes of time. It has witnessed regime-change, periods of economic prosperity and decline, stark shifts in social demographics, and was for most of the latter half of the twentieth century truly a house divided amongst itself. Today, the city remains as dynamic as ever, with a unique character of which all might intuitively speak, but none can definitively describe. In this sense, it was perhaps the most fitting location for a laboratory soliciting new perspectives and approaches to the study of religion. As one institution among many which has shaped—and been shaped by—the city, the university system is adapting to pressures both, old and new. Unsurprisingly, these tensions would emerge in our discussion, in which the apparent certainties of the past met with the uncertainties of the future. The Wissenschaftskolleg is surrounded by villas; some of new, some of old glory, reflecting wealth and affluence, privilege and a German Bildungsbürgertum. Here, at the far affluent West of Berlin, the turbulences of metropolitan cosmopolitanism and the buzzing life of multi-culture we know from our homes in Kreuzberg and Neukölln are virtually absent. The cast enters the stage, and the plot is yet to unfold. We, three PhD candidates in Theology, Philosophy and Sociology are all familiar with the city which we have called our home for some time. Yet, given the opportunity to question these relative-outsiders to Berlin about the shifting structures of academia, the problem of defining religion, and our roles as thinkers and researchers, we equally entered and left the conversation with the question “Where do we

1  ‘Magic and Religion’ (Appadurai) and ‘Religion—The Obscure Desire for an Object’ (Lambek). both held at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, February 2017

Old and New Gods: In Conversation with Arjun Appadurai and Michael Lambek


find ourselves? How does place affect our knowledge production? What are our responsibilities as researchers?” It is this question that runs through the following conversation with Michael Lambek and Arjun Appadurai. It is us who start the conversation: Rosa Schinagl (RS) I suppose I’ll begin. I am doing a PhD in Theology and looking at the young Hannah Arendt’s critique of the concept of Love. It's a critique she formulated already at age 22 in which she claims that Augustine’s concept of love provokes a structure of worldliness. Arjun Appadurai (AA) I wonder what she’d think if she knew she was a subject in a Theology Department? RS I think she would have liked it. She would have said ‘Ok, they are re-­ thinking my thoughts there.’ I think that’s what she would have wanted, as she was fond of concepts and being in conversation. Jordan Kynes (JK) My focus is on philosophy. I am from Florida, originally, and studied philosophy undergraduate at the University of Florida and then a master’s degree in ‘Religion and Culture’ at the Humboldt University here in Berlin. My current PhD thesis examines the early works of Moroccan philosopher Mohammed ‘Abed al-Jabri, who basically drew from early French historical epistemology to formulate a critique of what he refers to as ‘Arab-Islamic culture’. So my interest here is both in the discourse of ideas between cultures as well as between the natural and human sciences. Al-Jabri employs both discourses for his own political and philosophical project. Arjun Appadurai (AA) So you are here, an American PhD candidate in Berlin, in a German context writing about an Arab drawing from French thought. Oh, that’s impressive! Vanessa Rau (VR) I am a sociologist doing my PhD at the University of Cambridge and my work is on Israeli migration and new Jewish communities in Berlin, negotiations of religion and the secular and belonging in relation to processes of migration and conversion, some of them expressed in and related to music. AA Music? Sociology? Hmm… I can see that it is very anthropological. [The ‘place’] VR We would like to start by thinking about Berlin, since we all have a different perspective, either having grown up here or moved here a long time ago. And we know that you two have spent almost a year here and we would like to know how you find yourselves here as researchers and scholars and what impression the city has made on you, perhaps also in terms of its religious diversity…. What did you discover? What have you seen that you would like to share with us? Michael Lambek (ML) Well, as you can see, I am here in Grunewald and it’s not exactly typical of Berlin as a city. And I feel that I haven't spent nearly enough time in Berlin or drawn on its resources nearly enough. But it seems to me like a city with an infinite number of resources and a very exciting place. I like the diversity and dynamism of the city. But again, maybe you don't see that in Grunewald. I don't know how representative Berlin is of the rest of Germany, but I suspect not so much.


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I really don't know… In terms of cultural distinctiveness, one of the things that interests me about Berlin here in Grunewald is that people are really appreciative of nature. There are all of these green spaces that are really well-used, people are spending time in the parks and the forest. You walk around these lakes on a warm Sunday and you suddenly see naked people. I was really struck not so much by the fact that there were people in the nude but that there was a complete mix of nude and dressed people side by side, and people just seemed so relaxed about it! I mean, I haven’t talked to anybody—I mean you don’t interview naked people, well, until they’re dressed—but I’m sure it has something to do with an ideology about nature and being natural and so on. This kind of green movement I think is very strong here, so for me all of that is something that characterizes the place. It would be distorting to put it under the label of ‘religion’, but it’s in the same sort of family of things, in the sense that it is about the world and how we relate to it (…) It would be unthinkable in any North America city; people would be arrested and arguments would be made that it is harmful to children. I also saw a wild boar in the forest and, again, I think most North Americans would worry much more about safety and try to insulate themselves. AA I want to go back a little bit to my mental life in relation to Berlin. I mean, there is the Berlin of lived reality, with places like Neukölln, Kreuzberg, even the more complex edge areas like Pankow, Wedding or Moabit which I haven’t had the time to see properly. But I have been here and there enough, to think, in a sense, that it's a remarkable city. And I've written a bit about this and I think Germany is in a remarkable moment now, to exercise true leadership in terms of Europe as an alternative to authoritarian populism in the world. So, I think Germans are certainly cautious for all the best reasons, about taking on a stronger role. I don't think Germany is willy-nilly going to be in such a role or is currently in such a role. And I think Berlin isn't that role in Germany. That is, by every impression I have. I'm actually, truly seeing what it means to be a city that was unified after being on both sides of the German divide and the Cold War divide. And before that, the city that Hitler tried to rule Europe and the world from. So, its history is at least, as far as the last century or 150 years, not comparable to anywhere in the world in terms of complexity. […] But I'm wondering, rather than speaking about wanting to see more of Berlin and learning more about it, going to more neighborhoods and sights and museums. This only scratches the surface. But mentally, I have two associations of my own about prior intellectual life, which remain in my mind in my kind of semi-conscious as I experience practical life in Germany. One is Hannah Arendt and I want to mention this because, speaking of Hannah Arendt, I had the privilege of being in some very small classes with her, when I was a graduate in about your position, actually earlier. I was not even at my dissertation stage in Chicago at a very special and bizarre faculty called The Committee on Social Thought, which had people doing literature, classics, philosophy, a strange hybrid and three or four people came regularly from New York to teach there. One of them was Arendt, and there were two or three others; Harold Rosenberg the great

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art critic who wrote for the New Yorker; Hans Jonas2 was a philosopher from the New School for Social Research. But Arendt was, doubtless, the superstar. When I was a graduate student, I didn't realize it was the time of her Eichmann book,3 so the people in their department, despised it, they didn't look at it. She would be standing at the board and no one would look. They saw her as the essence of evil. So, they hated women and smart women anyway. But then, in our case, five months, later, I realized, all this was going on right there, 1972, or 73 or so. […] In the 1970s, which, as it turned out, the last phase of her life, she was working on the will4 and was teaching a set of seminars at Chicago, lecturing for very small groups. And I attended those as well. And there were some other even smaller classes that I had with her. She was a spectacular person and I have to share one of the two or three things she said in these classes, which has stayed with me now in almost 50 years, 45 years, something like that. And she said, with her very delightful but special and rather thick, German accent: “I want to explain to you the difference between love and desire.” And we were all 22, 23 [years old], we were waiting. So, she says: “When you desire strawberries, you eat some. When you love strawberries, you plant some.”5 Boom. You see why it stayed with me 50 years? ML That’s fantastic! AA So, she said a few things like that, and she just used to smoke with her lighter, [she was] very beautiful! Even at that age, she was quite luminous. So anyway, that simple quote has always stayed in my mind as one of those deeper perceptions. But I didn’t know, where it was in her autobiography, that she had thought about [this idea] much earlier and was now returning to it in the context of the will and the war. But anyway, it was a remarkable process… RS Related to Arendt but also returning to where we are, I was wondering, in terms of inside or outside perspectives. Even among those of us who have grown up here, we see symbols such as the wall and it can kind of represent different things: either “oh yes, the division” or “’we’ came back together”. How does it look from your perspectives to be in this city? Does it seem unified or divided?

2  Hans Jonas: German-born Jewish philosopher, former student of Martin Heidegger and close friends. He is best known for his work on bioethics, philosophy of religion and philosophy of technology. 3  Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem. A report on the Banality of Evil, Penguin Books: London: 1963. First published as a series of articles in The New Yorker. Hannah Arendt translated it herself into the German version. The book triggered a worldwide conversation about the crime on the Jews and others during the Second World War. It is still the most read book of Hannah Arendt. 4  Posthumous publications The Life of the Mind (1978) in which she also deals with the phenomenon of the will. 5  Arendt uses the Christian concept of love that is divided between cupiditas (cupidity) and caritas (charity). These two concepts are from Church father Augustine on whom she wrote her dissertation. Cupidity is always worldly and bounds you to the world that is transitory but carity is a concept of God that bounds you to him and leads you finally into freedom of the world. Hannah Arendt: (1996). Scott, Joanna Vecchiarelli; Stark, Judith Chelius, eds. Love and Saint Augustine. University of Chicago Press.


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AA I’ve learned a lot of factual things which I didn’t know, about unification, about its classification, about gentrification, you know, how many working-class areas in the East became gentrified, putting those people under pressure. Things in other words which account let’s say for the tendency of people in the old Easter housing project areas to go to the Alt-Right, for example, you know, or that this is part of their feeling that they’re lost in the new order. So, I learned a lot of facts and on the whole[and] my impression is that many go to the lower bureaucracy and they seem to be basically resentful of the West, resentful of the rich, resentful of refugees and somebody explained to me that these people, not only with fairly dreadful jobs are at the same time under pressure to cut back; financial pressure, you know, less staff. There’s that and a rigid structure. It’s the worst in other words. So, one impression I have is that bureaucratic life, still, in Berlin has the character of that kind of life in the East. But like Michael, I’ve not been around the city enough. One of things I've learned is that you never really know exactly where the line is because it’s very uneven; you're in Kreuzberg somewhere, then you go one meter and you’re in the East. I'm always asking when we go somewhere “Are we?”, “Where are we in relation to the line?” (laughs) so it’s not so very clear… VR And I think it’s interesting, what you say about these people who were left devastated or sort of … to think about what a change of ideology does to a person and her biography, and that can maybe be linked back to religion, perhaps like, what does it mean to change your outlook on life, or to be forced to change it. ML So, one of the things I heard that struck me as quite interesting and I don’t know how true it is, is that while in many of the post-Soviet countries, after the collapse of the Soviet regimes, people turned to religion and religion resurged, it did not happen in East Germany. Is that correct? So East Germany remained a kind of atheist place, relatively speaking? I guess the Church was more oppressed in East Germany then. VR Absolutely! RS And the Stasi, State security, really worked hard to suppress it. AA But there’s another connection maybe to the religion question in the change in Berlin, that is Unification in ’89, and how we experience it, how can religious perspectives, a perspective of religion, help? And I’m thinking that there is a way of thinking again which veers into anthropology, but also into other [subjects], which is this kind of “when prophecy fails” issue. That is, when capitalism proves to be a very serious pain in the neck, as opposed to delivering you from x and y and z … and that puts this, let’s call it, ‘the life of prophecy under the capital’, which then fails. There’s this great book by a social psychologist, [it’s] maybe 40 years old, maybe 50, called When Prophecy Fails, [by] Leon Festinger. What happens when these millennial communities—who think everything is going to blow up and it doesn’t blow up—what are you going to do? You know, and anthropology connects to a huge body of work on millennial movements, all of which have to do with the hope of material wealth, salvation, prosperity coming now and then it doesn’t happen, yet. So I’m thinking that one way to look at disappointment, and frustration, and anger among people from East Berlin or even East Germany generally, is if you look at the promises in ’89 of what open markets, capital would do, that has a reli-

Old and New Gods: In Conversation with Arjun Appadurai and Michael Lambek


gious quality about it. It’s not organized religion, but to the extent that people thought some kind of millennial salvation was going to come in terms of prosperity and career, etc. and of course it turns out not to be, [then] there’s the same kind of disappointment, at the level of meaning you know, with what happened. So, you know, who’s responsible? ML Do we know that the East Germans really anticipated that, or is it what we are projecting onto them? I can see that this is what Westerners might have imagined they were thinking. I don’t know what East Germans thought at the time when the wall came down. AA I think there’s evidence that there would be something to it, although I think there’s an overly, surely from the outside, is the engagement of all these elites with already earlier, with modernization, this and that. And people like, say, Alexei Yurchak’s work on modernity, the West of fascination, there’s a lot of this already in place. And then ’89 was supposed to bring in [snaps fingers] the reality. So, I think there’s some evidence for sure, but of course all of this is only sensible insofar as one makes this kind of analogy, it’s not organized religion as such and of course Berlin may be a very complicated case...

Bridging Gaps and Breaking Paths: A Laboratory VR As you know, we were very grateful that you attended our conference and of course we appreciated both of your keynote lectures. We had intended to organize a research laboratory rather than one of those standard conferences. How did you find the ‘laboratory’? ML One of the really positive things in your conference was that it was always ‘religion and’: religion and gender, religion and media, and so on, and not just trying to abstract and to isolate this thing ‘religion’, because that’s a wrong way to look at things. AA Yes, I was very encouraged and impressed with the fact that the spirit of it seemed to be very open, as to what the object was, how it should be studied, what it’s appropriate disciplinary lens was, etc. That was very encouraging to me, but also let me to recall the challenge—in anthropology to some extent but in religious studies for sure in the US form of it—which is a kind of danger in that openness to a kind of permissiveness, you know? Religion can be this, it can also be that, it can be a monkey, it can be a dog, it can be a tree. And then all of a sudden it can be, well Religious Studies can be philosophy, it can be anthropology, anthropology can be religion. Okay, it's getting a little ridiculous you know? So, that's the other risk, is kind of welcoming approach which takes the edge off. But that may be something we can come back to. ML But I was struck also by the fact that we were speaking at the Theology faculty. And I guess it's a Reform faculty, right? I began to realize that in Germany these faculties are either Reform or they’re Catholic, right? So that divide, which seems to run deep, I think is something that the community is exploring. And also,


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the question of how open faculties of theology are to things like philosophy, to non-­ reform thinkers, or even non-Christian thinkers like Hannah Arendt, or the Moroccan philosopher, al-Jabri… just to see how different really a subject is configured in different disciplines. So rather than have something to tell you, I’m really curious about how the subject of religion is configured in the disciplinary setting of the Humboldt and how it divides between Humboldt and the Freie [Free University of Berlin] and also between Reform and Catholic faculties. RS That’s interesting, because, as we speak, they are now asking to create other theological departments, like Jewish Theology and Islamic Theology. Because at the moment in Germany, which is really different from the rest of Europe, we have a certain contract with the government and church that says only the Protestants and Catholics have their own Theology departments. So, they are also secure, in a way. You cannot kick them out. It doesn't matter how many people study theology, they must always have the same number of professors and such. So of course, the other religions ask to have the same structural opportunities. And there is now this kind of discussion about how it should be. Should it be like in Switzerland? Or should it be like in the United States, or in Cambridge? Should they all be grouped together? Should they have the same curricula? So, this is the discussion about a need to grant theology departments to other religions. ML One of the things that happened in North America was that “Religious Studies” was created, which was not anthropology or social science, but nor was it theology. And it fell into an awkward position in between somewhere. But it has actually taken off in a very lively way. And I'm not sure that there’s been space for that in Germany. VR We do have religious studies as well. But historically, Christianity has been the dominant religion here, or structurally dominant and has been funded by the government. And other religions did not have this privilege. And now because there is this need and people asking for changes, we have, for instance, Jewish Theology, e.g. at the University of Potsdam to also train religious leaders within a University context. ML But actually, I have heard that many of the students there are converted protestants. Is that right? VR That’s not entirely wrong… [laughing] JK So, these shifts which we are seeing, in the case of the theological departments in a very tangible, structural way, is part of a broader struggle between new and old gods, so to speak. And in this sense, I think our conference represented more of the ‘new gods’ element. But of course, this tension is ever-present, because, as you say, there is always the risk of falling into a hopelessly amorphous kind of pursuit, if you entirely neglect the standards and accepted practices which have guided the study of religion before. So, in moving forward, so to speak, we must also be careful not to jump too far ahead of ourselves. And part of the challenge is maybe interacting with people from different disciplinary backgrounds, exploring potential

Old and New Gods: In Conversation with Arjun Appadurai and Michael Lambek


for common ground, approaches, and perspectives, which could then be constructive again. But to what extent this is possible is really the big question. AA Yes, there is something which is important for anyone from anthropology, that I know of, to address, and that is the guise in which this part of the problem you are talking about appeared in anthropology, which was from students learning from teachers. Those of us who taught courses with the title “Anthropology of Religion”. Yes, there was a time when we taught courses like that. As opposed to the latest book I’ve read “How I Want to Read It with You Now”, which is the normal title of courses these days. The actual field when I first began to teach, I had to teach such things. ML That’s what I teach. It’s still partly like that where I teach! AA Sure, in quite a few places but always feeling slightly overshadowed by the appeal of something newer, or some turn. But in the teaching, one of the big things in the textbooks and whatever was written, was the definition of religion. So, we want to teach this course of religion all over the world, or in many places. This is what anthropology is doing. But what is the it, that we are looking at it in many of these places? And an anthropologist has the same problem as anybody near ‘religion’ does, which is having to define it, so you know what you’re talking about! But in anthropology our profession is to say that the definitions of others occupy an equal place with ours. So, we have a constant auto-cannibalistic approach to any idea that we may bring to the table. So, a lot of the history of that field concerning what religion is, was just to take it as a starting point, you see? It was like this in the 70s or 80s when I taught this, taking Geertz’s definition from his famous essay “Religion as a cultural system” and it does as well as I can in saying that religion is not everything, but making practical sense of it is enough. But, Michael, I’d be interested in hearing what your experience was in that regard, meaning what is the object that’s being discussed? ML Ah, you describe my lived reality actually, because I’m still scrambling with those questions! Partly because I’ve edited the Companion to The Anthropology of Religion.6 So what is it? And I wrote the introduction asking what has religion been for Anthropology? As a way to get around the definition and to just look at the ways in which anthropologists have approached it. But in fact, in the expanded version of the paper I gave at your workshop I play off the Geertz and the Asad definitions still, because I still think they provide two kind of holder positions. And I do think that the Asad one has really transformed the discipline. But I think it was a misreading of Geertz, I mean, in some ways I think it was a kind of category error on Asad’s part to assume that Geertz was actually trying to define religion as an objective phenomenon. But really what happened is that two people are using the word in two different ways. And it’s not about something that they referred to, that they’re arguing about what is that reference, you know, as if it were a thing. So, I think in some ways that the debate has been misconstrued and that there’s room for both positions. And also, if you take Asad’s position; what do you do when you have

 Lambek, Michael, Boddy, Janice 2015. A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion, Blackwell.



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a colleague who tells you she works on Ancient Greek religion. Do you say: “Wait a minute! You can't, because religion only begins in modernity...” (everyone laughs) So, yeah various problems do arise. JK This perennial problem of definition and reference, particularly when studying religion, how do we deal with this responsibly without falling victim to claims of objectivity or unwittingly reinforcing broader political polemics when we talk about religion, or culture or gender for example? ML So, the use and value of a word like ‘culture’ changes historically, so there was a certain time at which it was a very useful word, indeed, and was kind of earth-­ shaking in some of its implications [but] over time it has changed and now it becomes used for certain kinds of identity projects which we might not want to agree with. The same is true for ‘religion.’ Rather than defining religion we look at it historically; how it has been used and the implications of using the word at a given time and in a given context. To answer your question, I think the first step is to always think contextually and always think critically. What I have against a person who is purely a deconstructionist or a genealogist is that they never put their feet on the ground and say anything because everything is always subject to critique so then where do you actually stand when you say that? So that’s why I prefer a thinker like Gadamer who says [paraphrasing] ‘let’s acknowledge what our prejudices are and how we might open ourselves to changing our prejudices, but let’s acknowledge that we’re starting from some place on the ground ourselves and we’re not hovering above the ground in the invisible realm of the gods, or whatever, you know, we too are mortals’. So, I guess we need to maintain a certain intellectual humility at the same time as being a critic. AA Yes, and what I’d like to add is that you have to have something else to offer, not just to deconstruct their term, but [rather] you have to ask, have you considered this? For example, if you look at religious followings. And yes, this is a word. It’s where you have a leader and a following, it’s not a sect or a cult; it’s a leader and a following, and then you have the descendants of that leader, which continue the following and so on, and they radiate out from that. They’re not mounted like the nation-state, you know. You can’t say this is the end of this cult and this leader and that leader [but] like stones, they ripple out and then these ripples overlap. But we don’t have much imagination for how to talk about that sociologically, so I think you have to invite people into that and say, well, would you consider this? Not just say, you know, your whole way of talking is nonsense because its constructed and recent and artificial, so you’re 100% wrong there’s nothing to speak for. This approach is obviously wrong, because I grew up in a Hindu household. My mother and father more or less seemed to think they were Hindu, and so did I. RS Right, so maybe when you ask, have you considered this? It’s an invitation to a discussion in which everyone can sort of meet, bring their perspectives and histories to the table, right? I mean as a way to come together. VR I find this important—the idea of a research exchange where everyone should be able to bring his or her perspective to the table!

Old and New Gods: In Conversation with Arjun Appadurai and Michael Lambek


Perhaps it ties into the discussion we had earlier about the faculties and Hannah Arendt; how she didn't fit in as a researcher in the philosophy department as a woman, and a woman with a Jewish background. And I wonder if things have changed so much in Germany. And whether, —in our thought processes as researchers and the way we are based in certain departments of university—it is the institutions that hold us back from what we want to do, rather than the concepts themselves. I wonder, is that what happens to us here? ML Germany has been so rich in concepts. And one of the things I’m realizing here is how much there is to learn from German thought that I didn’t know already. And much of it hasn’t been translated or isn't known in North America. But on the other hand, I think the hierarchies within the university here have a sort of patriarchal quality, and university life has probably held people back, so that the exciting time of Max Weber's day were sort of then lost a little bit, both because of the Nazi interval and the war. But I also want to say that my great aunt Helene Weiss was a student of Heidegger’s in the 20s and 30s. She was also Jewish. And as far as I know, she was very different from Arendt, not nearly as productive or as rich a thinker. And there are other people to put into that context. In fact, I’m actually trying now, because I'm here in Germany, to find out more about her life and write about her as well. JK So, we have these examples, like Arendt or Michael’s aunt, of exceptions; outliers, or outsiders perhaps to the academic mainstream of the time due to their gender or religion. While more horizontal and inclusive developments in academia have made cases like these more common, we are also aware of vertical constraints and vestiges of the ‘old system’, which are very much tied to the economic and social realities of the spaces where knowledge is produced. AA Well, I had the impression even before coming here, but now while here even more so, that because of the nature of European as well as German federal and state funding, as well as the extraordinary number, range and financial capacity of the Stiftungen7 in Germany which is something like one-hundred to everyone in France or Holland, as far as I know. All of this I’m sure has special historical roots, the Max Planck system and historical institutions like this. And overall, I’ve been given the impression that in Britain too, the normal modal career track has now become not the search to become a lecturer or maybe one day a professor, but these post-docs which you have sometimes for 5 years, 8 years, then you have another one. You may be 50 years old and it might be your third post-doc and it may not be just for a year as it is in the US—you know, boom—[these are] long ones but still not secure. But on the other hand, because they’re project based and so-on, these seem to be the sites of intellectual innovation and newness and whether they’re happening in say the Max Planck system or from the universities, [they are] outside of their patriarchal structure. So, my rough impression is that there’s a kind of core sector which is unchanged, which is still very vertical, very hard to get into, and very slow to move up in. And there may never even be enough positions at the top  Stiftung: German term referring in this context to academic ‘stipend’.



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for you to go somewhere. Then there is this other very well-funded, but insecure world in which you do very well but never say, you know, ‘now I’m set’. VR Yes, however, this system is increasingly governed by neo-liberal market forces, rather than being solely based on academic merit. ML Yes, and on the other hand, a lot of those projects are led by the patriarchs who get the funding, and then hire the post-docs for a certain period of time so they still aren’t quite two fully separate worlds. RS And in general, for women it is hard to compete, because whenever you have a child, you’re out. If you are out of the system for a year or half a year, there’s no way that you can stay on track, just because of this time which you have spent outside. AA I’m sure for women it's worse still, whether you’re in a regular job or in the open market, that the life-cycle, you know, exerts a heavy preference for being male, with the woman taking care of the reproductive labor and so on … but let me say, generally speaking, my impression is, by looking at applications and things, that the sociology of these groups that apply for these funds, really has a different quality about it. Both in the content and the people who are running it, there’s a sense of egalitarianism. So, yes it is not the case that the people who are dominant in some vertical system have simply handed over power to some other group, but I think there is a real kind of difference both in their intellectual tenor and the space given to people who are doing new things. Otherwise, to be honest, I think without this that if it had just been the Heidelbergs and Göttingens and the this’s and the that’s, this system would have been dead and would have had nothing to offer! Two big catastrophes and a college which was grand in the 20’s and 30’s has now been dragged down from number 1 to 150. Let me tell you, though people don’t believe it, that these are historical things. I mean universities and research institutions are not self-maintaining. They can become ossified and they can dwindle. But I think here something else is happening. I guess what I’m offering here is that there's this trade-off that in order for some liveliness to be there, it has to be done on these insecure terms…

The Future of the Study of Religion VR Considering all the discursive changes that are happening on a transnational level and this kind of general uncertainty, you both have said that it’s important for us researchers to position ourselves, where we come from, what language we use and so on… but what if we are uncertain ourselves at this point in time? About where we are going, and what all of this is for when our democratic system fails us? And also, in times of right-wing populism, do we now have a different responsibility as researchers? ML Well, speaking for myself I’m always uncertain; it’s part of the process and that’s part of the human condition and maybe that’s particularly acute from an intel-

Old and New Gods: In Conversation with Arjun Appadurai and Michael Lambek


lectual position. I think if you’re too certain, that’s more dangerous, you know, and we are intellectuals. We’re not simply politicians or ideologues or fundamentalists, you know. And certainly, one of the things that a lot of anthropologists now are documenting is the prevalence of doubt and scepticism… RS So, if you found yourself in our position as a young scholar, what would your advice be under the present political circumstances? Personally at least and based on conversations I have had with other young scholars, there seems to have been a shift towards political positioning. Do you feel a need, or an urge maybe, to become more political, or maybe less political … or just to research without becoming involved in politics? ML So, everybody has to find the right balance of that in their lives and I think that can change over a lifetime too, and again I don’t want to prescribe …. Arjun and I have a mutual friend and colleague (he was in Arendt’s seminars with Arjun and he co-authored some pieces with me) who is now working full-time in his academic retirement in the green movement and on ecological issues. He’s convinced that climate change is absolutely critical and that he should be engaged full-time in that, and the implication is really that I should be engaged full-time in that too, but I’m not. JK Sure, everyone must decide for themselves how their contribution tackles the major issues of any given time. But there is also something to be said for work which perhaps ‘takes the path less-travelled’ by challenging prevalent ideas and exploring areas receiving perhaps less attention in the broadest academic discourse. It’s all about asking the right questions… VR I agree and perhaps, more than ever before, we are asked to be alert or even vigilant about emerging discourses and changing alliances. ML Yes, and I think that my age cohort or my historical cohort has been incredibly privileged to live between major wars, in our part of the world anyway, and I’m not talking about the long-term wars in other places. We’ve lived in places where we’ve had a lot of economic opportunity, and I think your generation faces different circumstances since we don’t know what’s going to happen; capitalism, whether it’s going to finally collapse over its contradictions or what’s going to replace it, and we don’t know what’s happening environmentally. So, I don’t know where you want to begin but obviously one of the things, from an anthropological point of view, we always do is we try to undermine the dominant stereotypes that people have about others, and the whole process of ‘othering’ and projecting others in a negative light vis-à-vis ourselves in some way and critiquing the dominant ideologies of those kinds. This is what you see in civilizational discourse, in a sense too, because this whole idea, you know, that Christians invented secularism and secularism is a good thing because it comes from Christians, and Muslims couldn’t understand the kind of secular world, or whatever kinds of ideas are out there. Its complex, but obviously this fight is not hopeless. You have to study the terms and the way the terms have changed, just as you’re studying the reference of the terms, and the way the reference has changed. We’ve also got the problem in social science, especially if we’re studying ourselves, so to speak, that the terms that the analysts use, or the disciplines use, are the same as the terms that the natives use, yet we might be using


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them somewhat differently and we should be aware of what those differences are and that’s again confusing and makes work at home very difficult. You have to be constantly attuned to misunderstanding, not to assume understanding before it actually takes place. As our discussion was drawing to a close, Prof. Appadurai was summoned to his next appointment. He thanked us, excused himself and graciously exited the stage, taking with him a lifetime of thought and experience to the next encounter. We remained briefly with Michael Lambek, and we seized our final opportunity to ask a few candid questions to a seasoned professional who was happy to respond to them. When all had said their goodbyes, the three young researchers left the manorial Wissenschaftskolleg and made their way back into the buzzing life of Neukölln, pondering over new and old Gods.

Part I

Religion, Gender, Body and Aesthetics: Stagnation or Change in the Authority over Religious Knowledge Production

Ways and Travels of the Sacred Feminine from Brazil to Central Europe Feminine Power and Agency in the Contemporary Umbanda Community Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô Inga Scharf da Silva

Abstract  This study examines the Afro-Brazilian theology of the Orixás (Yorùbá deities from West Africa) as practised in a translocated and diasporic Umbanda community in the Central European region of Switzerland, Austria and Germany, the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô / Terra Sagrada. In contrast to religious traditions of the Candomblé from Brazil (Cf. the definitions of Umbanda and Candomblé in its religious field: Gonçalves da Silva (Candomblé e Umbanda. Caminhos da Devoção Brasileira. Selo Negro, São Paulo, 2005), which are based on the interpretation of the West African Ilê Ifé oracle deciphering the deities’ influence on people through the Orixás, this spiritual community refers its way of learning about the deities to the effects of music, dance and the inner knowledge of one’s own body. Particularly, change and renovation is sought in the oral transmission of knowledge production by a feminist liberation from shameful and powerless attributions in the mythology of the goddess Obá, among other female goddesses. Spiritual tourism of the community to Brazil encourages these new ways. This text argues that these feminist activists expressed in contemporary performances in Central Europe select certain historical precursors in the religious field of the Afro-Brazilian religions. On the beach I saw votive offerings lined up, colourful candles and white baskets. Amparo told me that these were gifts for Yemanjá, the goddess of the waters.1 She got out of the car, stepped solemnly to the edge of the water, and paused for a while. I asked her if she believed in Yemanjá. She asked furiously how I could think of that. Then she added, “My grandmother brought me here to the beach, and called the goddess so that I could prosper in a good and happy manner. Who was your philosopher, who spoke of black cats

 Iemanjá is known in Brazil as the sea-goddess of the salty waters. There are other Orixás of water such as Nanã, Euá, Oxum, Obá, Logum-Edé.


I. Scharf da Silva (*) Humboldt Universität, Berlin, Germany e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 J. Hensold et al. (eds.), Religion in Motion,



I. Scharf da Silva and coral amulets and said, ‘It is not true, but I believe in it?’ Well, I say, ‘I do not believe in it, but it is true.’”2

This quotation from Umberto Eco’s novel The Foucault Pendulum, published in Italian in 1988, clearly expresses the ambivalent relationship of religion, gender and social participation underlying the motif of female devotion to the Umbanda throughout the novel. Umberto Eco describes his intellectual discussion of enlightenment in the face of religious fate and resignation in a very European sense. Amparo, as the Brazilian lover of the male Italian protagonist, acts as a prelude to the rational-thinking person who rebels against the world of the imagination—in this case, the Umbanda—and then surrenders to failure. The novel is about a religion that is regarded as subordinate to the dominant social discourse, but nevertheless visible, with the notion of strong goddesses and gods who, as part of an Afro-Brazilian reality, must constantly withstand the forces of oppression and evoke resisting movements.

Background and Methodology My research approach3 is based on ethnological field research, including about 30 interviews with activists of my case study and close observation in a multi-sited ethnography,4 constant travels to different places in Switzerland, Austria and Brazil, and living and researching in Berlin for over seven years and in an Umbanda community with a mother-house5 with the two names Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô and Terra Sagrada in the Swiss mountains in the Canton of Appenzell. This house (in Yorùbá,

 Eco (1989), p. 196. Am Strand sah ich Votivgaben aufgereiht, bunte Kerzen und weiße Körbe. Amparo sagte mir, das seien Gaben für Yemanjá, die Göttin der Gewässer. Sie stieg aus dem Wagen, trat andächtig an die Wasserkante und blieb ein Weilchen schweigend dort stehen. Ich fragte sie, ob sie an Yemanjá glaube. Sie fragte wütend zurück, wie ich das denken könne. Dann fügte sie hinzu: “Meine Großmutter brachte mich hierher an den Strand und rief die Göttin an, damit ich schön und gut und glücklich gedeihe. Wer war doch gleich euer Philosoph, der von schwarzen Katzen und Korallenamuletten sprach und gesagt hat: “Es ist nicht wahr, aber ich glaube daran?” Gut, ich sage eben: Ich glaube nicht daran, aber es ist wahr.” 3  This research forms the empirical basis for my doctoral thesis “Trauma as a Knowledge Archive. Postcolonial Memory Practice in the Religious Globalization Using the Example of the Contemporary Umbanda”, in European Ethnology of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where I have been working as a research assistant since 2014. 4  Marcus (1995), pp. 95–117. 5  The term “mother house” refers to the structure of religious organizations such as the Christian church or the so-called casas (pt.: house) of Umbanda or Candomblé communities in Brazil. It refers to a centre and place of origin of a spiritual or religious community of an Afro-Brazilian religion. Derived from this are the individual filiations, which, like children (of a mother), are independent, yet in direct emotional and material dependence. 2

Ways and Travels of the Sacred Feminine from Brazil to Central Europe. Feminine…


Ilê) is translocated and spread as a transnational network over the German-speaking countries of seven locations in Switzerland (Stein, St. Gallen, Zurich, Bern), Austria (Graz, Vienna) and Germany (Berlin). Currently, there are 74 members of the community who do ritual healing work6 for about 700 people. During the course of my research, I became a member in this community, acting as a personal medium and receiving spiritual entities of my Cabocla (an indigenous entity from Brazil) and my Preta Velha (a spiritual entity of an old, black woman) into my body through trance rituals twice a month in rented premises in the centre of Berlin. My point of view therefore provides both a scientific and an emic look on the European Umbanda. The different designations and names of this community derive their origins from African societies, namely the African-rooted Bantu religions from Angola and Congo (Umbanda) and the Yorùbá religion of the Orixás (female and male deities) from West Africa, and have been transmitted from Brazilian society due to the colonization and the enslavement of Africans.7 The name Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô derives from the Yorùbá language and means “the house of the life energy” (Axé) of Oxum, the goddess of fresh water, with the proper name or the quality Abalô, which denominates the impact of the water of a waterfall. The other name Terra Sagrada comes from Brazilian Portuguese and means Holy Earth in relation to the sheltering of a culture of knowledge that has already taken many journeys, ways and forms. Not only are ritual and spatial structures and material culture in the form of clothing, sacrifices and domestic altars recombined in everyday religious life; the spiritual learning path for the actors also differs from the usual ways as practised in Brazil. This path makes consecutive initiation possible for both mediums of spirits (Caboclas/Caboclos, Pretas Velhas/Pretos Velhos, Pombagiras/Exus, Marinheiras/ Marinheiros) and as initiates—so-called filhas- and filhos-de-santo—of the Orixás. These spheres are separated from one another in Brazil into two distinct religions: the Candomblé and Umbanda, though both the Umbanda religion from Brazil and the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô involve different references to African, European as well as indigenous shamanistic beliefs from Brazil. However, the Yorùbá concept of the Ori as the head of consciousness and personality in the worship of the Orixás8 is central to this particular Swiss religious house. Moreover, aspects of the Bantu-­ related Brazilian Umbanda belief system have also been introduced, particularly the cultivation of mainly spirits of “Old, Black Slaves” (Pretas Velhas/Pretos Velhos) and “Brazilian Indians” (Caboclas/Caboclos), among others, and the Candomblé with the adoration of goddesses and gods (Orixás). In the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô both spiritual entities from Brazil as well as the deities of the 16 Orixás from the Yorùbá cosmology are revered.

 Cf. concepts of ritual healing work in the Umbanda religion: Magnani (1980).  Cf. the sincretic practices in the Umbanda religion in Brazil: Figueiredo Ferretti (1995, 1998), see also Scharf da Silva (2017). 8  Verger (1992). 6 7


I. Scharf da Silva

Fig. 1  The margins of Umbanda / the “religious field” (Ferreira de Camargo 1961)

In Central Europe, there are other outer margins within the religious field of the translocated community of the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô that are not present in Brazil. Here, my case study can be localized in a spectrum of humanistic atheism, secularized Christianity, Buddhism and other shamanistic religious movements, also bordering onto psychology, especially nature therapy (Fig. 1).

Lived Mythology The centre of my argument involves discussions by the community’s spiritual leader (the Mãe-de-santo, “mother of the holy”), Habiba de Oxum Abalô, in various talks held in Berlin in June 2016 and Cumuruxatiba in Bahia, Brazil, in March 2017, in

Ways and Travels of the Sacred Feminine from Brazil to Central Europe. Feminine…


which she reflected critically that orally transmitted narratives of the river goddess Obá characterize her mostly suffering and powerless. Since Yorùbá tradition posits the Orixás as mirrors of human personality, these mythological narratives of femininity are important not only for their potential theological interpretations, but also to define roles and behaviours for actors in this religion. This is important, because both in Brazil and in Central Europe, there are many women among the members of the religion as well as in leadership positions.9 Habiba de Oxum aims at a reinterpretation of traditional narratives and images of Obá, who she feels should be depicted as self-confident and positive. In the understanding of the religious activists, traditions should not only be guarded, but also be reflected and renewed in their historicity. The spiritual leader of the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô underlines the aspect of the transformation of the narratives about all the Orixás, be they female or male, in the emergence of a monotheistic and patriarchal thinking. It has changed the myths in their essence, because the orally transmitted narratives allow many variants above a consistent basic form and thus a pluralistic thinking. The problem is, Habiba de Oxum Abalô continues with her argument, that Terra Sagrada as a religious community must assert itself in this two-millennium-­ old monotheistic cultural area, where the dominant religions demand a claim to truth.10 In her argument, Habiba de Oxum points to Jan Assmann’s conceptual creation of the “thinking of the one”11 as a revelatory God who has developed an exclusionary and repressive thinking. In contrast to this, based on Assmann, she locates an integrative and cosmological faith in all-unity in the Candomblé and the Umbanda as the basis for the expression of the many goddesses and gods of the Orixás. In the spiritual practise of Afro-Brazilian religions, the dedication to the world is multilayered.

 Hayes (2017), pp. 395–430. Hayes affirms this generally accepted data of female participation and leadership in AfroBrazilian religions, but notes the absence of deeper research in this area: “Although census data and sociological studies consistently indicate that Brazilian women participate in organized religions at a greater rate than men, we know surprisingly little about women’s religious lives in Brazil. With some notable exceptions, the scholarship on religion in Brazil has not focused on women as a specific class of religious practitioners nor has it included much systematic reflection on gender and the impact of gendered differences on religious practice” (Hayes, 2017, p. 395). 10  “A revolutionary and exclusive and consequently deeply political monotheism, which rejects the existence of many gods per se, displaces and extinguishes them. Subsequently this monotheism disapproved and fought against the existence of other religions“ (Habiba de Oxum Abalô in a virtual conversation with Inga Scharf da Silva, 29.4.2018, unpublished, translation from German ISdS) / “Einem revolutionären und exklusiven und in dem auch zutiefst politischen Monotheismus, der die Existenz von vielen Götter per se ablehnt, verdrängt und auslöscht und in weiterer Folge auch die Existenz anderer Religion ablehnte und bekämpfte.” (Habiba de Oxum Abalô in einem virtuellen Gespräch mit Inga Scharf da Silva, 29.4.2018, unveröffentlicht) 11  Assmann (1993). 9


I. Scharf da Silva

(Habiba de Oxum Abalô, Stein, Canton of Appenzell, Switzerland,  2014, © Inga Scharf da Silva)

An Umbanda house creates spiritual access through the experience and embodiment of religious trance through dance and a slow approach, along with a second phase of approximation (following the development of the spirits) to its personal Orixá, thus enabling new ways of describing the goddess. In this way, it differs from Candomblé communities, which refer themselves to the West African oracle of Ilê Ifé for prophecy through the jogo-de-búzios (the shell game), and consequently teach the personal mediums and their personal Orixá to dance in a predetermined manner. In contrast to this normative structure, the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô is not using the Nigerian oracle, but the knowledge of the divine is born out of a body knowledge of the dancers when they fall into a trance and appears in a phenomenological way. As Kleinhempel notes, In the process of fusion of African cultures in Brazil the West African and especially Yoruba culture came to supersede the Bantu stratum, possibly due to its more institutionalized and stratified social organization. The Yoruba priestly element and cultic ritual overlaid the Bantu “shamanism” focused on “healing”, introducing Yoruba names and rites. However, the Bantu element persisted in significant structures and rituals.12


 Kleinhempel (2016).

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Obá, the Goddess of Restless and Torrential Waters Traditional myths depict Obá as involved in conflict-rich situations of misused confidence, jealousy, abuse, humiliation and shame.13 The legend Obá is raped by Ogum / Obá é possuída por Ogum14 tells of Obá as a martial goddess who challenges the brave warrior Ogum to a fight. Ogum, however, prepared a sacrifice for this dispute so that Obá must lose. When she tumbles, Ogum tears her clothes from her body, rapes her and in this way becomes her first man and husband. Later, Xangô robbed Obá from Ogum. The legend Obá provokes the death of the horse of Xangô / Obá provoca a morte do cavalo de Xangô15 tells of the marriage of Obá and Xangô in the town of Cossô. However, Xangô liked to conquer countries and women, and so also married Iansã and Oxum soon after. All three women fight for the love of Xangô. Obá gives him a white horse, but he remains away for a long time with his second wife Iansã. Hence, Obá receives advice from the oracle to sacrifice the tail of a horse. Oxum, however, cuts off not only the tufts, but the whole tail of the horse, so that it dies of its bleeding, and when Xangô returns from the war, he sees only the hairpin of his beloved horse, leading him to repudiate Obá (but not Oxum). Lastly, but not least, the most well-known myth about Obá among the povo de santo (the believers) tells about the way Obá cuts off her ear induced by Oxum / Obá corta a orelha induzida por Oxum.16 In a conflict of jealousy with Oxum, who is the preferred wife of Xangô, Obá tries to conquer the love of Xangô and, following the advice of the rival, cut off her left ear, and mixed it into Xangô’s food. When he sees the ear, Xangô becomes terribly angry and casts out both wives. In an act of despair, Obá and Oxum turn into rivers that flow together in wild rapids, symbolizing the rivalry of the two goddesses. In other traditions, however, Obá is depicted as a figure of wisdom and an embodiment of female spiritual power. Obá is the guardian of the left and therefore is able to think with the heart. The left side of humans17 has always been connected with the woman and for elementary reasons this is also the side on which the heart is located.

 Scharf da Silva (2017).  Prandi (2001), p. 314. 15  Prandi (2001), pp. 316–317. 16  Prandi (2001), pp. 314–316. 17  Beniste (2002). 13 14


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(Devotion and Conflict / Mythological scene Obá, 2014, Inga Scharf da Silva, oil on canvas, 180x110cm, © Inga Scharf da Silva)

Obá is the guardian of the society Elékò, a secret society to which only women are admitted. The chant “Guardiã da magia ancestral” (guardian of the ancestral magic), which is part of the song repertoire of the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô, refers to Obá in her connection to Elékò and her royal origin. Obá Xirê Obá Xirê A Guardiã Da Magia Ancestal A Guardiã Advogada real

Obá Xirêa Obá Xirê The Guardian Of the Ancestral Magic The Guardian The Royal Administrator

Xirê is a ritual dance of all the goddesses and gods of the pantheon of Orixás. In this song it appeals to the trance medium to dance


Habiba de Oxum Abalô criticizes that The myths of Obá, which refer to her royalty, speak for the most part of humiliation and rape. They assign her male attributes of struggle, strength and anger, stubbornness, power, etc., which, because she is a woman, are transformed to disadvantages, even mistakes or weaknesses. Obá stands in these myths symbolically for the change in values and attitude, which grants the male exclusive power of interpretation and hegemony.18  Habiba de Oxum Abalô in a virtual conversation with Inga Scharf da Silva, 29.4.2018, unpublished, translation from German ISdS “Die Mythen von Obá, die in ihrem Namen auf ihre eigentliche Royalität verweist, sprechen mehrheitlich von Demütigung und Vergewaltigung, sprechen ihr männliche Attribute von Kampf, Kraft und Zorn, Eigensinn, Machtanspruch etc. zu, die, weil sie eine Frau ist, dort zu Nachteilen, ja sogar Fehlern oder Schwächen mutieren. Obá steht in diesen Mythen sinnbildlich für den Wertewandel und Gesinnungswandel, der dem Männlichen ausschließliche Deutungshoheit und


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Being a great goddess, she is greeted as Iyá Agbá and is directly related to the witches, the so-called Iá Mi Oxorongá, who are transformed into birds (Ajé). As such, she is among the most important goddesses of the cult of the Geledés, female ancestors who hide behind large masks in the world. Geledé was practised in Bahia (Brazil) during the beginning of the 20th century (about 1920–1940), though not in Central Europe.19

History: Connection and Renovation In her 1947 study, City of Women, the US-American anthropologist Ruth Landes examined women’s power in Candomblé in Salvador da Bahia in terms of the centrality of female priesthood in Candomblé religious authority which up to this day is called the “Roma Negra”, the “Black Rome”, in reference to the importance of the Candomblé in a traditional Catholic country. However, others have suggested that the feminine finds space and recognition in this religious tradition not because it is based on matriarchy, as Ruth Landes romanticized it,20 but rather more in the sense of Pierre Fatumbi Verger’s idea that it was historically important for women to maintain the economic power to be able to keep their houses, buy their freedom and purchase land, and choose their succession amongst a female line. In a seminal article published in 1985, “The Special Contribution of Women to the Candomblé of Brazil” (“A Contribuição Especial das Mulheres ao Candomblé do Brasil”), Verger argued that women were historically of great importance for the Afro-Brazilian religions in Salvador da Bahia in the northeastern part of Brazil, because of their centrality in the family and economic dexterity over food and land. Interestingly enough, one of the goddess Obá’s characteristics is that she is the guardian of the family and of the kitchen and of cooking and the hearth. It is this ability that has given women financial independence at this crucial moment in Brazilian history. Due to their great economic power, after the abolition of slavery in 1888, women were able to buy lands on behalf of their communities and pass them along to their spiritual houses in a female line of succession. An analogous situation exists among women—descendants of Africans in Brazil, where there are no longer large families formed around a polygamous father. The children live with the mother while the man lives with each woman in turn. Such a family gravitating around the mother, does nothing more than consolidate the sentiment of women’s independence. They are the ones who have the power at home, and the children of different fathers live with them. These women are very active; they sell cooked foods on the markets and on

Macht zubilligt.” (Habiba de Oxum Abalô in einem virtuellen Gespräch mit Inga Scharf da Silva, 29.4.2018, unveröffentlicht) 19  Martins (2011): pp. 80–83. 20  Lorand Matory (2005).


I. Scharf da Silva the streets, identical to those in Africa, such as the acarajés [...] The influence of women in Candomblé is greater than of men because more of them were able to buy their freedom.21

This argument could also be extended to the southeast region of the country, where statistics indicate that nearly 80% of the religious leaders in the Umbanda of São Paulo are female.22 Since Brazilian society is patriarchal, the female power in Afro-­ Brazilian religions can be regarded as a form of resistance embodied in an assertion of female identity and leadership.23

Spiritual Tourism While most of the Afro-Brazilian religions came to Europe through migrants from Brazil in the 1980 and 1990s, the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô was founded by an Austrian woman: Astrid Kreszmeier or Mãe-de-Santo Habiba de Oxum Abalô. Kreszmeier met the Brazilian Pai-de-Santo Carlos Buby from the Templo Guaracy in 1992 at an international conference on “Original Trance Traditions, New Cures and Ecstasy” in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, and then set out for an initiation into his temple of Umbanda in the state of São Paulo. She has not lived there in the classical sense, but has travelled to Brazil at least once a year for 13 years to increase her understanding of the Umbanda tradition. In 2006, she received the permission from her Pai-de-Santo to open her own Umbanda house in Switzerland. Manuel Vásquez and Cristina Rocha24 call this approach to learning a new religion “spiritual tourism”, a process they detail in a study of the expansion of Brazilian religions over the world as a globalization of the sacred. The Yorùbá say: “Ayé l’ajo, órun n’ile,”25 which means that “the world is a journey, the world beyond is the home”.

 Pierre Verger, A Contribuição Especial das Mulheres ao Candomblé do Brasil, 100f. (translation from Brazilian Portuguese ISdS) “Uma situação análoga se verifica entre as mulheres descendentes de africanos no Brasil, onde já não existem grandes famílias formadas à volta de pai polígamo. As crianças vivem com a mãe enquanto que o homem vive com cada mulher alternadamente. Uma tal família gravitando à volta da mãe, não faz mais do que consolidar o sentiment de indepenência das mulheres. São elas que mandam em casa, e com elas vivem os filhos de pais diferentes. Estas mulheres são muito ativas; elas vendem nos mercados e nas ruas alimentos cozidos, idênticos aos da África, tais como acarajés […]. A influência das mulheres no candomblé fazia se sentir mais do que a dos homens porque elas eram mais numerosas a poder comprar a sua liberdade.” 22  Nogueira Negrão (1996). 23  Hayes (2017). 24  Rocha and Vásquez (2013). 25  Hödl (2003). 21

Ways and Travels of the Sacred Feminine from Brazil to Central Europe. Feminine…


On the most recent of my journeys to Brazil in March 2017, the majority of the actors in and visitors to the rituals were women. Hence, it is no coincidence that this Umbanda group from Central Europe is taking the path of spiritual tourism within the globalization of the sacred to Bahia in Brazil, and not directly from any of the African cultures from which the religion originated. As noted above, in the African context, the female deities are depicted as more passive, their power subordinated to the masculine, and it is only in Brazil that we see women develop into greater authority and prominence. It is the connection and renewal of a female knowledge that the European practitioners find in Brazil.

Travelling Knowledge In the religious practise of the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô, the concept of “travelling knowledge” connotes that not only the religion and its knowledge has travelled from Africa to Brazil and in a second diaspora to Europe through forced or voluntary migration, but also that in everyday life, the Mãe-de-Santo Habiba travels to the different locations of her religious house. All of the believers have to travel at least once or several times a year to the mother-house in the Swiss mountains in order to frequent important internal rituals. The Sitter river flows close to the house as a spiritual reference of the community. In addition, orders from the spirit world (Aruanda, an utopic place in Umbanda where the spirits live) dictate that all those who are initiated into this religion should travel and visit each other in the different places. The idea of exchange within a spiritual community that sees itself as a family is also made clear in the desire that every member should learn Brazilian Portuguese in order to be able to understand the approximately 400 songs written and sung in Brazilian Portuguese and speak with the spiritual entities that often speak in the language of their origin from Brazil. There are many forms of travel in this religious community. To visualize these ways of real and imagined travels, I have included a mental map of flows of religious knowledge, communication and references. The scientific and artistic strategies of the so-called mappings to which I refer are cartographic procedures of visualization, forming geographical localizations of social movements and travelling knowledge, as well as maps of global social space that show its recoding in a cultural sense.26


 Spillmann (2007), pp. 155–167.


I. Scharf da Silva

(© Inga Scharf da Silva)

This map of the spiritual community of the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô reveals, amongst other things, that since the 1990s the primary source of knowledge for this Central European community has been the southeast Brazilian state of São Paulo, where the Umbanda religion was founded at the beginning of the twentieth century. Since 2014, however, the community has also begun researching new ideas for religious belief and expression in the northeastern state of Bahia, where traditional Candomblé houses do not syncretize as the Umbanda houses do. Bahia has therefore become important for this Central European community for the legitimation it affords through the affiliation to a more purely “traditional” African heritage and the connection to the model of strength of spiritual feminism.

Ways and Travels of the Sacred Feminine from Brazil to Central Europe. Feminine…


The Fought Space of the Human Body The mode of “ways” can also be seen in a different way, less in terms of travel and more in terms of border. Umbanda in Brazil is perceived as embedded in a “mediumistic continuum”27 between the two poles of Afro-Brazilian Candomblé and Euro-Brazilian Kardezism,28 often opposed to the growing importance of Pentecostal churches. This recent demarcation to the growing importance of Neo-Pentecostalism, which is characterized by religious intolerance and demonization of Afro-Brazilian religions, is challenged in the new spiritual battlefield of the controversial and fought space of the human body as an intermediary between material and immaterial worlds. The Brazilian ethnologist Vagner Gonçalves da Silva states: One of the marked characteristics of Neo-Pentecostalism is the way it turned Pentecostalism into a religion experienced within the human body, a characteristic normally associated with Afro-Brazilian and Kardecist religions. Combating these religions can be seen, therefore, not so much as a proselytizing strategy to steal devotees from these denominations […] but more as a way of attracting followers keen on a religious experience impregnated by a strong magical and ecstatic allure that has the additional benefit of being socially legitimized through its association with Christianity.29

Corporeal Feminine Shamanism A central moment in the practise of this religion is the incarnation of goddesses, gods and female and male spirits in trained mediums. Moving into a state of trance happens through dance to specific rhythms and chants that move through the personal body of the Umbandists. As the natural therapist and Mãe-de-Santo Astrid Habiba Kreszmeier emphasizes, the body takes a connecting position between the psyche and the soul. As such, the body makes the soul visible, and “its movements become sacred gestures [...]”.30 The preparation for the contact with the spiritual world dimension in the Umbanda is experienced through the body. The effect caused in other traditions through meditation or praying here works through the perception of the body. Its presence, its movement, its dance—when the body has learned to centre itself on its essentials, to empty itself and to open up—becomes a vessel, a tool and a landing field for spiritual or even divine forces. It

 Ferreira de Camargo (1961).  These overlaps of the Umbanda to Kardecist spiritism result from the fact that the Umbanda was originally founded by rebellious Kardecists in the beginning of the twentieth century. The main spirits of the Umbanda of Caboclas and Caboclos and Pretas Velhas and Pretos Velhos were classified as inferior from an evolutionist point of view of Kardecism, and thus experienced a re-evaluation in the new religion of Umbanda. 29  Gonçalves da Silva (2016), p. 490. 30  Kreszmeier (2004), p. 201. 27 28


I. Scharf da Silva surrenders itself, exposes to, takes in itself, is being taken by the world beyond the frontier, becomes its voice, the world’s expression. To the body, in other words, everything is expected, because it is also regarded as “everything”, as a direct and complete expression of the whole life.31

This transpersonal experience as a process of receiving spirits in one’s own body is referred to as feminine shamanism that prioritizes the incorporation of spirits and deities, rather than the common experienced journey outside the person and the body.

Resistance and Gender As a polytheistic religion, Umbanda also gives space for the feminine in a structural and basic way. This sphere of diversity is a form of resistance and alternativity in today’s rather monotheistic and neo-liberal world situation. Both in Brazil and in Central Europe, the Umbanda sees itself as a religion of resistance and as an alternative way of knowing. While in Brazil the Umbanda defines itself mostly as a religion of the poor, oppressed and marginalized and has become a religion of the people by sacralizing personification of spirits of indigenous and enslaved Africans, the focus in the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô is embodied in its connections with natural forces. Here, Umbanda is seen as a religious movement of resistance because it is a polytheistic religion in a monotheistic field. Whereas in Brazil these discussions are more ambiguous and controversial, the positioning of its spiritual leader Habiba de Oxum Abalô is very clear in this respect. This positioning includes questions of gender. With this depreciation, a permanent depreciation, you are exposed to the danger that you are adapting: humans want to survive. One of the big adjustments is the statement that we are actually doing everything possible, but are monotheistic. This great theme ... the monotheistic understanding of Yoruba, there is still a more solid reason. But monotheistic thinking has nothing to do with Umbanda. Unless Kardecist, or in other words Christian, thoughts prevail. Umbanda is lived through polytheistic thinking.32

 Kreszmeier (2004), p. 132. “Die Vorbereitung für den Kontakt mit der geistigen Weltdimension geht in der Umbanda über den Körper. Das, was in anderen Traditionen über Meditation oder Gebet bewirkt werden will, läuft hier über die Wahrnehmung des Körpers. Seine Präsenz, seine Bewegung, sein Tanz wird – wenn er gelernt hat, sich auf sein Wesentliches zu zentrieren, sich leer zu machen und zu öffnen – zum Gefäß, zum Werkzeug und zum Landeplatz für geistige oder gar göttliche Kräfte. Er gibt sich hin, setzt sich aus, nimmt in sich auf, lässt sich nehmen von der Welt jenseits der Grenze, wird ihr Sprachrohr, ihr Ausdruck. Dem Körper wird – anders formuliert – alles zugemutet, weil er auch als „alles“ angesehen wird, als unmittelbarer und ganzer Ausdruck alles Lebens.” 32  Astrid Habiba Kreszmeier, 20.10.2011, cited by Scharf da Silva (2011) “Bei dieser Abwertung, einer permanenten Abwertung bist du der Gefahr ausgesetzt, dass Du Dich anpasst: Der Mensch will überleben. Eine der großen Anpassungen ist die Aussage, dass wir eigentlich alles Mögliche tun, aber doch monotheistisch sind. Dieses große Thema... das monotheistische Verständnis der Yoruba, dort hat es noch einen gefestigteren Grund. Aber in der Umbanda hat das monotheistische Denken gar nichts zu suchen. Es sei denn, das kardezistische, also das 31

Ways and Travels of the Sacred Feminine from Brazil to Central Europe. Feminine…


While in Brazil major distinctions separate the theological beliefs of Umbanda and Candomblé due to different audiences and socioeconomic settings, these margins disappear in the religious diaspora of the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô, becoming a highly dynamic religious field. The affirmation of polytheism opens the possibility of both female power and a wide selection of gender identity of each individual. There is no exception or contest between male or female, but rather a structural basis of plurality and multilayered perception of the world and other human beings. The Afro-Brazilian myths of the Orixás33 reflect this complex world of interaction.

Oxum, the River Goddess of the Calm Waters In her lecture “Die Ökonomie des Heiligen / On the economy of the Holy” in July 2017, the Mãe-de-Santo Habiba spoke in her role as a religious leader about the feminine ways of prosperity and social well-being underpinning her appeal by elaborating on myths of the Afro-Brazilian deity Oxum, the goddess of rivers and lakes. She emphasized the socio-political significance of a female way of “housekeeping”; an economy of preservation of human beings and their nature in a neoliberal world based on the accumulation of money and the exploitation of people and resources. […] Candomblé is a religion in which traditionally female qualities like nurturing, caretaking, and emotional sensitivity are not seen as impediments to authority but rather form the ideal model of it. […] The figure of mother-of-saint represents an extension of women’s maternal role into the spiritual realm.34

The Mãe-de-Santo told a myth of the river goddess Oxum, the beautiful, vain and love-hungry goddess who, on second glance, is also a rebel and a Iá Mi Oxorongá, the ancient female and mother-power of the Yorùbá that is represented in the forms of birds and through the masks of the Geledé cult (just like the goddess Obá). The male Orixás wanted to exclude Oxum from important rituals. As a contesting reply, she used her power as a woman to regulate fertility and pregnancies and stopped the continuation of the world by inducing women to bear no more children. Who was to lead the wars, to praise the ancestors, if there were no more offspring? Oxum puts the male Orixás under pressure to allow her to participate in the ritual of divination—the jogo-de-búzios—by questioning the oracle of Ilê Ifé, the centre of the Yorùbá civilization in Nigeria, to anticipate fate and future.

christliche Denken, hat Vorrang. Umbanda ist gelebtes polytheistisches Denken”. 33  Prandi (2001). 34  Hayes (2017), p. 412.


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Feminine Power and Agency The question arises as to how this tradition is received in the Central European regions, where the majority of the activists are female. To what extent does the production of knowledge contribute to the strengthening of female identity and agency by means of a female leader, as an Afro-American theology is presented by female goddesses? The purpose is to examine how Brazilian feminist spirituality offers a model or how there is change. From my ethnographical point of view, I can see feminine agency in this group through a general presence and celebration of the sacred feminine. Since the immaterial world is not only populated with male, but also with female spirits and deities, it serves as a model for its activists.35 Kelly Hayes underlines this aspect: In contrast to Evangelical Protestantism, with its masculine godhead, Afro-Brazilian religions offer women a vision of supernatural power personified in the form of the female Orixás and the female spirit guides associated with Umbanda. […] Learning to receive and work with the spirits as an Umbanda medium or Candomblé initiate usually is the first step in a process that transforms the afflicted woman into a healer able to draw on her own spiritual guides to help others similarly afflicted.36

Collective Emotions of Belonging Much has been written and discussed about the romanticizing of traditional religious practices in a new surrounding, as well as the accentuations of beliefs and linguistic abilities of their followers including the appropriation, translation and indigenization37 of foreign knowledge into their own cultures and postmodern lifestyles. But what I would like to emphasize is the role of such adaptions—regardless of the change in content and practices—in creating an affective experience of affiliation across national and continental borders. In the case of the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô, this process creates an affinity of people in Central Europe to cultures in Brazil and in West Africa that belong to an imagined network of Yorùbá culture. I want to affirm the idea of an imagination as a means of identity, as Arjun Appadurai accentuates in his book Modernity at Large reflecting collective imagination as a social power: […] these diasporas bring the force of the imagination, as both memory and desire, into the lives of many ordinary people, into mythographies different from the disciplines of myth and ritual of the classical sort. The key difference here is that these new mythographies are

 This aspect of the basic polytheistic structure of religion is to be distinguished by the recent discussion on religious women’s agency (Mahmood 2005; Avishai 2008; Rinaldo 2013), since Afro-American religions differ from conservative religious milieu of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions. 36  Hayes (2017), p. 411. 37  Clifford (2013). 35

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charters for new social projects, and not just a counterpoint to the certainties of daily life. […] The imagination is today a staging ground for action, and not only for escape.38

(The community of the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô / Terra Sagrada, Stein, Canton of Appenzell, Switzerland, 2014, © Inga Scharf da Silva)

It is clear, as previously noted by Eric Hobsbawn, that culture is always being constructed and traditions mostly invented. Despite the racial, social and economic differences in the backgrounds of the believers, the povo de santo, Umbanda becomes a means of connection through the experience of the immaterial that the Yorùbá call a “home”.39 As Appadurai argues, we live in a globalized world marked with the gradual disappearance of national boundaries and the destruction of postcolonial divisions, as well as the emergence of the division of the world into a Global South and a Global North that lacks a feeling for coherence and affiliation. At the end of his book Fear of Small Numbers,40 Appadurai writes about hope, referring to grassroots movements that are mostly political transnational and nongovernmental networks, but can also include religious groups, as a “utopian side of cellular globalization”. The future will show whether this small group of Umbanda believers of the Ilê Axé  Appadurai (2003), pp. 6–7.  Hobsbawn (1998), pp. 97–118. 40  Appadurai (2006). 38 39


I. Scharf da Silva

Oxum Abalô who celebrated their tenth anniversary in 2016 is a grassroots movement; however, they have clearly expressed this theme by adapting their beliefs as a religion of resistance.

Conclusion The spiritual community of the Ilê Axé Oxum Abalô, situated in the Central European region of Switzerland, Austria and Germany, is accentuating the dissolution of the religious fields inherited from Brazil. While in Brazil the two fields of Umbanda, with its adoration of spirits, and Candomblé, which is centred around the adoration of Yorùbá deities, are separated into the official structure of the communities (though not in religious life), this European community has incorporated both systems in its exploration of female spiritual power. In the study of the feminine, it is evident that the foundation of this community is found in the Bantu cosmological structure, in which the wisdom of the oracle is less significant than the pursuit of body knowledge and memory in the form of feminine shamanism and healing rituals. Through the use of the imagination as a social power, this travelling religion is seeking a theological renovation to strengthen the female presence through polytheism as a form of resistance in a globalized world. Saravá Obá! Obá Xirê! For the one who thinks with the heart!

References Appadurai, Arjun. 2003. Modernity at large. Cultural dimensions of globalization. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ———. 2006. Fear of small numbers. An essay on the geography of anger. Duke: Duke University Press. Assmann, Jan. 1993. Monotheismus und Kosmotheismus. Heidelberg: Winter. Avishai, Orit. 2008. Doing religion in a secular world. Women in conservative religions and the question of agency. Gender and Society 22 (4): 409–433. Beniste, José. 2002. As Águas de Oxalá. Àwợn Omi Òṣàlá. Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand Brasil. Clifford, James. 2013. Returns. Becoming indigenous in the twenty-first century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Eco, Umberto. 1989. Das Foucaultsche Pendel. Wien: Kroeber. Ferreira de Camargo, P. 1961. Kardecismo e Umbanda. Uma Interpretação Sociológica. São Paulo: Livraria Pioneira Editora. Figueiredo Ferretti, S. 1995. Repensando o Sincretismo. São Paulo: EDUSP. ———. 1998. Sincretismo afro-brasileiro e resistência cultural. Horizontes Antropológicos 4 (8): 182–197. Gonçalves da Silva, V. 2016. Crossroads. Conflicts between Neo-Pentecostalism and AfroBrazilian Religions. In Handbook of contemporary religions in Brazil, ed. B.E. Schmidt and Steven Engler. Leiden: Brill. Hayes, Kelly. 2017. Women and religion in contemporary Brazil. In Handbook of Contemporary Religions in Brazil, ed. B.E. Schmidt and Steven Engler, 395–430. Leiden: Brill.

Ways and Travels of the Sacred Feminine from Brazil to Central Europe. Feminine…


Hobsbawn, Eric. 1998. Das Erfinden von Traditionen. In Kultur & Geschichte. Neue Einblicke in eine alte Beziehung, 97–118. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta. Hödl, Gerald. 2003. Einführung in die Religion der Yorùbá. Wien: Vorlesung Afrikanische Religionen II am Institut für Religionswissenschaften der Universität Wien. Kleinhempel, U. R. 2016. Retrieving African Traditional Religion from the Fringes – Umbanda and the Brazilian Traditions as a Source. In Presentation at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria: “Africa’s Indigenous Religions”. Kreszmeier, A. H. 2004. Vom Segen des Körpers. Intuition, Invokation und Inkorporation in spirituellen Traditionen Brasiliens und Querverweise zur Magie von Aufstellungen. In: Baxa, Guni Leila, Essen, Christine, Kreszmeier, Astrid Habiba (Hg.): Verkörperungen. Systemische Aufstellung, Körperarbeit und Ritual. Heidelberg. Magnani, José Guilherme Cantor. 1980. Doença e cura na religião umbandista. São Paulo: FIOCRUZ. Mahmood, Saba. 2005. Politics of piety. The Islamic revival and the feminist subject. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Marcus, George E. 1995. Ethnography in/of the world system: The emergence of multi-sited ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology 24: 95–117. Martins, Cléo. 2011. Obá. A amazona beliciosa. Rio de Janeiro: Pallas. Matory, J. 2005. Lorand. Black atlantic religion. Tradition, transnationalism, and matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Nogueira Negrao, L. 1996. Entre a Cruz e a Encruzilhada. Formação do Campo Umbandista em São Paulo. São Paulo: Editora da Universidade de São Paulo. Prandi, Reginaldo. 2001. Mitologia dos Orixás. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras. Rinaldo, Rachel. 2013. Mobilizing piety. Islam and feminism in Indonesia. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Rocha, Cristina, and Manuel Vásquez. 2013. The diaspora of Brazilian religions. Leiden: Brill. Scharf da Silva, I. 2011. Spirituelle Erinnerungsräume einer polytheistischen Weltsicht als Zugang zu Zwischenwelten und Naturerfahrungen. Interview von Inga Scharf da Silva mit Astrid Habiba Kreszmeier als Yá Habiba de Oxum Abalô, Begründerin und Mãe-de-Santo von Terra Sagrada, 20.10.2011. Berlin: 1 Stunden und 20 Minuten, unveröffentlicht. (Spiritual spaces of memory of a polytheistic world view as an approach to the in-between worlds and nature experiences.) ———. 2017. Umbanda. Eine Religion zwischen Candomblé und Kardezismus. Über Synkretismus im städtischen Alltag Brasiliens. Berlin: LIT Verlag. Spillmann, P. 2007. Strategien des mappings. In Transit migration forschungsgruppe (Hg.): Turbulente Ränder. Neue Perspektiven auf Migration an den Grenzen Europas. Bielefeld (pp. 155–167). Verger, Pierre. 1992. A Contribuição Especial das Mulheres ao Candomblé do Brasil. São Paulo: Artigos.

Pleasure from a Theological Perspective Teresa Forcades i Vila

Abstract  My argument is that our body and its capacity for pleasure are an aid and never a hindrance in our path to God. I am a Catalan Benedictine nun and a feminist theologian. I understand feminist theology as a critical thinking linked to an experience of contradiction: contradiction between my own very positive experience of God and self, and some of the statements about God/woman/human coming particularly, but not only, from my Roman Catholic tradition; the perceived contradiction can also be between my experience of God/self and some biblical passages, some liturgical or pastoral practices of the Church or some aspects of the organization and governance of the Church or society.

What did the “spiritual enjoyment” of Saint Teresa of Ávila have to do with her body? Imagining it as “pure spiritual enjoyment” would contradict her own assertions, for she claims that it was her whole being, body included, that experienced it.1 Should we then imagine her enjoyment as “sexual pleasure,” as Bernini apparently did in his famous sculpture “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa”?2 Here is how Teresa herself described the experience that inspired Bernini’s work: I saw in his hands a long golden dart, and in its tip, it appeared to have a bit of fire. It seemed to me that he was piercing my heart with it several times and it came to my entrails. When he removed it, it seemed that he was taking my entrails with it and he left me in fire with great love of God. The pain was so deep that it made me moan, and the softness that this pain was giving me was so overwhelming that there is no place left for desiring that it goes

 Teresa (1987).  Bernini (2011).

1  2

Pleasure from a Theological Perspective: The text is the transcription of the oral exposition and has the direct and vivid style of an oral exposition with rhetorical questions, repetitions and recapitulations. T. Forcades i Vila (*) Monestir de Sant Benet de Montserrat, Barcelona, Spain e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 J. Hensold et al. (eds.), Religion in Motion,



T. Forcades i Vila away, and the soul cannot be happy with anything less than God. It is not a physical pain but a spiritual pain, although the body also partakes of it, and even a lot. It is such a soft loving request that takes place between the soul and God that I beg God’s goodness that it allows the experience to those who might think that I lie. The days that it lasted, I was beside myself. I desired neither to see nor to speak, but only to dwell in my sorrow, that for me was a greater glory than any other glory of this world.3

Saint Teresa was a Carmelite nun who lived in sixteenth-century Spain and was a Church reformer and a mystic. In 1970, Pope Paul VI proclaimed St. Teresa— together with St. Catherine of Siena—“Doctor of the Church.” It was the first time that the Catholic Church recognized, officially, that God can give women the gift of theological teaching for the good of the whole Church. It has been almost 50 years since then. However, even today, the biblical texts proclaimed on the feast day of St. Teresa—as well as on the feast day of the other women acknowledged as Doctors of the Church (St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Lisieux, St. Edith Stein and St. Hildegardis)—are those corresponding to the liturgical office for virgins and not to the liturgical office for doctors. The opening antiphon from the liturgical office for doctors reads: “The mouth of the just man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is right,” or “The Lord opened his mouth in the assembly, and filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, and clothed him in a robe of glory.” Or also: “The mouth of the just man speaks with wisdom, his tongue speaks righteousness because he carries the Law of his God in his heart” (Psalm 36, 30–31). On the other hand, the opening antiphon from the liturgical office for virgins reads: “God is with her, she will not tremble. God protects her with His gaze” (Psalm 45), or: “Here is a wise and faithful virgin who went with lighted lamp to meet her Lord.” Or also: “Let us rejoice and shout for joy, because the Lord of all things has favoured this holy and glorious virgin with his love.” Moreover: “Come, bride of Christ, and receive the crown, which the Lord has prepared for you for ever.” And, finally: “Let virgins praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is supreme; its majesty outshines both earth and heaven» (Psalm 148, 12–13). Mouth, wisdom, tongue, righteousness, assembly, word, knowledge, honour, what is righteous, heart and law are the words and expressions associated with doctors (males). Being protected, gazed upon, accompanied, not succumbing, being wise and prudent, going to the encounter with Christ, keeping the lamp lit, being celebrated, loved, holiness, glory, bride of Christ, crown, worship to God are the words and expressions associated with virgins (women). St. Teresa had burnt, by order of her confessor, a commentary to the “Song of Songs” and she herself and various of her disciples were accused and imprisoned for varying periods of time as a consequence of their ideas. This explains the expression attributed to St. Teresa: “Better an intelligent confessor than a saintly one.” Saint Teresa’s Constitutions prescribed that: 1 . nuns should have the right to choose or dismiss their confessor; 2. they should be allowed to have communal recreation;

 Teresa (1987), pp. 13–14 (author’s own translation).


Pleasure from a Theological Perspective


3. they should be free to pray according to their own experience and feelings and not only according to a pre-established canon; 4. the prioress elected by all the nuns—and not a priest coming from the outside— should be viewed as the spiritual guide of the community. In writing about her spiritual enjoyment, about her spiritual pleasure, Teresa does not allow her body to be left apart. It is her whole body that becomes happy, that is filled with joy and pleasure. The linkage of the spirit with all that constitutes the material world is central to Christianity as it is claimed, expressed, symbolized, experienced and made visible at its fullest in the Incarnation. This linkage has constituted the deepest scandal of Christianity, not only in the first century but also today. What an absurd pretension, that the most Holy, the Supreme, that what gives ultimate meaning to life, be contained in a human body, a limited body subject to ageing and decay! The body appears as defective, as inferior in comparison with the spirit and, in fact, there are spiritualities—platonic, neo-platonic, its derivatives or its equivalents in other cultures—that invite us to conceive thus the human constitution: we have a superior part, the soul, with which we ought to identify, and then a material part, that we—identified with the soul—experience as a prison. According to this vision, at the end of our life, we shall become free from this body, from this prison, in order to enjoy our fulfilment without the bodily limits. This is a platonic or pseudo-­ platonic perspective; it is by no means Christian. What does it mean—as it is stated in the Christian apostolic profession of faith—to believe in the “resurrection of the flesh”? Saint Paul does not claim that one has to leave behind the body in order to access heavenly fulfilment, but only that one has to leave behind the earthly body. It is obvious that we do not take our carbon or nitrogen atoms with us to the afterlife, among other things because we share them with each other; the atoms that today form my body have belonged to many other people in the past. It is obvious that on speaking of the resurrection of the flesh we do not speak of carbon and nitrogen atoms, but we use, in the context of the Christian anthropology emerging from the New Testament, an expression so scandalous or contradictory or so difficult to understand as soma pneumatikon, the “spiritual body.” What does “spiritual body” mean? There are many explanations, but now I am interested in highlighting what follows: according to Christian anthropology, the body is not at all a subordinate of what supposedly would be our divine part, that is, the soul. God, in the Incarnation, has acquired a body and this body has been taken to heaven, understood as the state of fulfilment. If we are to grant any meaning to the Catholic dogma of the Assumption of Mary or to the Ascension of Jesus it is precisely this radical claim, unheard of when it first appeared and shocking still today, about the dignity of the body: the body as non-disposable constitutive of our spiritual identity, united to the soul for all eternity. Let us not forget that materialisms—dialectic or not, historic or not—exist up to this day, denying the spiritual experience, denying the reality of the spirit and its capacity to break the causal chain of matter or its arbitrary character with a conscious intentionality, genuinely called “freedom.” As specular image of these materialisms, some spiritualisms do not


T. Forcades i Vila

deny “the body,” which is impossible to do, but denigrate it and consider in us, human beings, a noble part, the soul, and an innoble part, the body, conceived as a burden and as a prison. Immanuel Kant, in the introduction to his Critique of Pure Reason, states: “The light dove, cleaving the air in its free flight, and feeling its resistance, might imagine that its flight would be still easier in empty space.”4 What the dove does not know is that without the air it would not fly, because it is precisely what the dove experiences as resistance at each beat of its wings that allows it to float. The experience of taking for an obstacle what in fact is the means by which you are fulfilling your desire can be directly applied to our body from the perspective of theological anthropology. Our body, with regards to our capacity to reach plenitude, understood as intimate union with God, not only is not a hindrance to be lamented, but corresponds to “the air” in Kant’s reflection: like the dove without air would not be able to fly, so we without our body would not be able to experience God, would not be able to grasp what love, that for which we have been created, is. In what sense can it be stated that the body and the experience of bodily pleasure is not a hindrance but an aid to strive towards God? In his book The Sabbath,5 the twentieth-century Jewish philosopher and theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel puts to our consideration the following reasoning: time and space, as Kant developed and philosophers of all ages have perceived, are two basic dimensions of our “being human”; but time and space—according to Heschel—do not have the same theological value. Heschel considers that “time” is more divine than “space” and gives as a reason for this distinction the fact that with regards to “time,” we human beings are contemporary, we come together in sharing “time,” but with regards to “space,” we are rivals, we compete for “space.” The person seated next to me is contemporary with me: we share the same second, we are united in time, without fighting to own “this second.” Not so with space: I have my seat, she has hers. If I am to have her seat, she’ll have to abandon it. Heschel states that in space we are rivals. How then can “space” help us grasp that “we are one”? How can “space” help us grasp that we have been created by one God that loves us, that sees and experiences us as a unity, how to grasp from our experience of “space” that the separation between us is just an illusion? Heschel speaks of unity as a “good” for humanity, he understands that unity defines the divinity and affirms that the “time” that unites us is more divine than the “space” that separates us. Considering customary for religion in general to identify as “sacred” the places that predispose us to experience God—mountains, forests, sites of beauty, sites of silence—Heschel confronts the notion of “sacred place” present in pagan cultures and also in Christianity with the notion of “sacred time” experienced in Judaism; Heschel considers superior the spirituality based in moments of intervention of God in history.

 Kant (1995).  Heschel (1996).

4 5

Pleasure from a Theological Perspective


I would like now to make a critique to Heschel from the perspective of Trinitarian theology and particularly from the notion of person that emerges from it. The fact that each person has his/her own space does not necessarily imply rivalry; it can also give rise to donation, to gift. How could I give anything, if I had nothing “mine”? “All that is mine is yours,” says the father of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke.6 In order that this expression has meaning, there must be a difference between what is mine and what is yours. Otherwise “to give” makes no sense, love becomes empty. “Space”—like the air for Kant’s dove—is not an obstacle to proceed to God, but an aid. In space, in the body, we can experience what reciprocity means. Nevertheless, the importance I give to space does not imply that I consider time less sacred. In God there is no space, nor time, nor sex. But our life is determined by space, by time and by sex and the implication is that these three dimensions are conditions of possibility of our friendship with God.7 I ask myself what is there in God that corresponds to space, time and sex, the three essential categories of our life. Not only time and space—classical philosophical dimensions—but also sexuality, with all that it implies of desire and pleasure when the desire can be fulfilled. If we had no space, we would not be able to learn what reciprocity is and what “offering” means. According to the Trinitarian understanding, in God there is no space, but there is distinction and reciprocity; in God there are relationships based on an exchange of love, on a dialogue that implies reciprocal and free self-giving. Thus, space helps us understand and experience reciprocity. In God there is no time. Then, which one is the correlate in God of our experience of time? It is fidelity, which is something that we can experience because we have the dimension of time. Fidelity, according to the language of the Old Testament, is equivalent to truth. In God there is no time, but there is truth. When the Old Testament distinguishes the true God of the false gods, it does not do it according to a dogmatic truth. The true God is the faithful God, the God in whom we can trust. “I have told you that I would come and I “came.” I have told you that I would be by you in distress and here I am.” Truth is fidelity. “I have promised you something, you can count on me.” In God there is no time, but there is fidelity. We have time and this allows us to experience fidelity, to experience truth.  Gospel of Luke 15, 31.  See attached table entitled Analogy between the human being and God. This table proposes an analogical understanding of space, time and sex as basic human categories able to sustain a subjective experience of God as reciprocity, truth and fire. The analogical character of space, time and sex implies the freedom of the human subject. By virtue of its being created to the image of God, the human subject cannot be predetermined: it is free; this freedom implies the possibility to block its own fulfilment. The analogy implies that human subjectivity finds its fulfilment in the experience of reciprocity, truth and fire in a historical and personally differentiated (unique) way. It implies likewise that the fundamental subjective value of space, time and sex in one’s life can be “denied” or wrongly experienced as “absolute”. And, finally, it implies that the divine (fulfilling) orientation of one’s experience of space, time and sex cannot occur once and for all, but presupposes a constant break with inertia, a moment of creativity that needs to be constantly re-enacted (in Lacanian terms: the precipitation of subjectivity; in Christian theological terms: being born again; cf. Gospel of John 3). 6 7


T. Forcades i Vila

The third dimension is sex. In God there is no sex. We (human beings) do have sex. It might seem impossible to find a divine correlate for sex in the same way that it is possible for space and time. This would be true if sex were only to reproduce. If we conceive of sex as something more than a mechanism of reproduction of the species, if we conceive it as a school of desire, as the force that brings us out of ourselves and propels us towards another, then we indeed can identify a correlate in God. Sex is essential and necessary to us in order to learn, to understand and to experience the desire that exists in God. God is not neutral, God is fire, God is alight with desire. God is active from within, with a real and profound motivation. The Song of Songs has its origin in the pastoral erotic literature, which dwells in the mutual desire of two lovers to be physically united. I received my spiritual introduction to the Song of Songs from a sister of my monastery who reached the age of 100 years. She was 95 when I first met her. She told me: When I entered the monastery, I was fifteen years old and knew nothing about sex. When I read the Bible and found the Song of Songs, I turned the pages and found … the breasts, the sexual organs … how is it possible to find this here? Someone – God? – has made a mistake! How is it possible to find in the Bible these words, these images...? I don’t understand what this has to do with spirituality, with God and with everything else that the Bible talks about!

This had been her experience until she became bed-ridden. As she explained to me, since she became bed-ridden and had no other distractions, she had experienced the love of God more intensely than before and had understood that the erotic love is what God proposes to each of us. That is to say, what in us expresses the maximal strength of desire, the most profound in us, where we experience the fullest of desire and pleasure, of deep enjoyment, all the power with which a man can love a woman (she spoke of a man and a woman, but I extend this also to the homosexual relationship, because the importance of the sexual desire with regard to its divine correlate does not depend on heterosexuality, but on interpersonality), this strength with which we humans can desire each other at the sexual level, is the best example we have to understand with what power God desires us, with what depth God desires us and how God approaches us and asks whether we want to correspond his/her love (Fig. 1). Experiencing the love of God in such a direct and intimate manner overflows all categories of identity, be it sexual or otherwise, to confront the person with her/his naked self. This is why John of the Cross, close friend of Teresa of Ávila, used the feminine to speak about himself as the beloved of God and this is why Teresa of Ávila can not only use a feminine metaphor to speak about God, but one that inverts and subverts the hierarchical relationship between the sexes and between God and the human: As it is said that a woman who wants to have a good marriage must behave with her husband, so that if he is sad, she should show herself sad, and if he is joyful, then she should appear joyful, even when she never is: thus, but with truth, without pretence, behaves the Lord [Señor] with you. He subjects himself to you and wants that you are the Lady [Señora] and He wants to do your will.8

 Teresa (1982) (author’s own translation).


Pleasure from a Theological Perspective

Fig. 1  Analogy between the human being and God (© Teresa Forcades i Vila)



T. Forcades i Vila

References Bernini, Mormando F. 2011. His life and his Rome. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Heschel, Abraham Joshua. 1996. The Sabbath. Scarborough: Harper Collins. Kant, Immanuel. 1995. Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp Verlag. Teresa, Ávila. 1987. Book of life, 17.8. The life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by herself. London: Penguin Classics. Teresa, Ávila. 1982. Camino de Perfección (Way of perfection) Manuscrito de El Escorial 42.4. In Teresa de Jesús. Obras completas. Texto revisado y anotado por Fr. Tomás de la Cruz , C.D. (3a edición). Burgos: editorial Monte Carmelo, p. 262.

Hermeneutics of Modern Death: Science, Philosophy and the Brain Death Controversy in Orthodox Judaism Sarah Werren

Abstract  Brain death criteria is acknowledged by 80 countries worldwide as the death of a human being. Such acknowledgement has not gone without critical perspectives being voiced. Philosopher Hans Jonas (1903–1993), for example, who criticizes the brain death criteria as the modern version of the old mind-body dualism, names it today’s brain-body dualism. He argues in favor of a more holistic perspective on the human dying process, thus resembling in his opposition modern Jewish Ultra-Orthodox’ strict reservations against brain death. Contrary to the Western philosophic way of argumentation, Orthodox Jews and their religious authorities looked into the matter following other interests: In Orthodox Judaism, the question whether brain death is per definitionem halachic death (death according to religious law) created a controversy in its own right. This article intends to discuss two main arguments: First, the Orthodox brain death controversy shows in a nutshell how production and governance of knowledge, secular (also medical) and religious knowledge alike, depends on processes of legitimization within a specific interpretive community. The issues of brain death and organ donation, generally rejected by the Ultra-Orthodox but accepted by their “modern” co-religionists, show that trust in the medical determination of death as well as trust in the uncertainty of the dying process are both legitimate options within the same religious normative framework. Thus, the acceptance or rejection of the brain death concept in different Jewish religious cultures may have (among other factors) to be considered together with the question of “knowledge sovereignty” when it comes to death and dying. Second, the question of which knowledge generating system should best be trusted is indirectly mirrored by Jonas’ idea of a new mind-body dualism that alludes to a general dichotomy between (medical) science and religion.

S. Werren (*) University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 J. Hensold et al. (eds.), Religion in Motion,



S. Werren

Brain death criteria are acknowledged by 40 countries worldwide as the death of a human being. Such acknowledgement has not gone without critical perspectives being voiced. In the case of Jewish Orthodoxy the “launch” of this so-called new definition of death led to a decades-long controversy, and finally produced two “halachic realities”1 in that regard. The one within Modern Orthodoxy is by and large accepting of the brain death concept and the medical practice of organ donation, while the other, Ultra-Orthodoxy, rejects it. The goal of this article and the following argumentation is to identify the main reasons behind the truth claims put forth by religious authorities involved in the halachic examination of the new criteria. Dealing with the question of hermeneutical difference when approaching such a complex issue as the determination of death of a human being, this article is an attempt at perceiving the struggle from a non-essentialist perspective. It will be argued that the difference in positions along these socio-religious boundaries is influenced by three major factors: First, meta-halachic considerations consisting of a certain untranslatability (or even incommensurability) of systems, i.e. ethics and law. This idea will be extensively discussed in a critical analysis of Daniel Gordis’ opinion regarding Jewish bioethics and religious law. A second factor for an unbridgeable gap between the opposing positions on brain death are differences regarding the acknowledgment of changing scientific paradigms that serve as a basis for normative exegesis. Daniel Reifman’s text-hermeneutical research on the brain death debate in the Orthodox milieu and his connection to Thomas Kuhn’s theory of the incommensurability of paradigms is a well-considered factor needed for an encompassing explanation of the debate. And finally, there is the praxis of interpretive communities as put forth by literary theorist Stanley Fish: the social dimension of interpretation, meaning the influence of pre-structured understanding of text, has not been given enough attention, neither within the debate itself, nor in secondary literature about the debate. In a second line of thought it will be contended that not only religious groups with their truth claims and normative approaches to reality are to be regarded as interpretive communities, but any other knowledge producer like medicine or philosophy as well. And why is that important? Philosopher Hans Jonas and his early refutation of the Harvard criteria of death is a worthy example of the attempt of philosophy’s claim to power over medical science, since the latter challenges the “sovereign” territory of meta-physics by proclaiming a “new definition” of death. At the same time, it is a clarion call for ethical behaviour and for a holistic perception

1  The term “halachic realities” is borrowed from the title of an anthology published by Lev Farber “Halakhic Realities—Collected Essays on Brain Death”. The term points at the existence of multiple religio-legal (halachic) ways of living—and, in our case, dying. Following Berger/Luckmann’s work (The Social Construction of Reality, 1966), “reality” is presumed to be socially constructed. Seemingly, any construction of legalistic frameworks that serve further institutionalization of (religious) structures, even if this process increases the authoritative claim on objective reality, are socially constructed. Different halachic realities are thus the result of the interplay between stabilization, institutionalization processes and interpretation.

Hermeneutics of Modern Death: Science, Philosophy and the Brain Death Controversy…


of the human body in an environment, i.e. medicine, that seems to unethically apply dualistic conceptions in favour of medical progress. This article contributes to the discussion of governance of knowledge regarding the human body within religious groups. It combines the interests of the historical-­ philological approach within religious studies that considers the study of religious primary sources an integral part of the discipline, with aspects that are of concern to a sociology of the body. At a general level the article seeks to understand the relationship and feedback loops that exist between representations of the body and bodily functions in religious texts, and the analyses and interpretations of these texts as point of departure for the perception of the human body from a normative background. The following deliberations are part of my dissertation project about negotiation processes between religious tradition and decision-making regarding bioethical issues in Jewish Orthodox and Reform congregations in New York and Jerusalem. Many insights have been gained during the 54 interviews that have been conducted mainly with rabbis and healthcare chaplains from both denominations between 2010 and 2016. Even though this article discusses the Orthodox brain death debate rather theoretically, the many inputs that were given during the meetings with these religious specialists were helpful for the conceptualization of this article.

Brain Death and Western Philosophy: Conceptual Difficulties During the pilot episode of House, a well-known American TV show, its main character, Dr. Gregory House, says, “Patients always want proof. We’re not making cars here. We don’t give guarantees.” In 1968, a group of physicians pressed for such a “guarantee”; the Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School reported that as a consequence of modern high-tech medicine, obsolete criteria for the definition of death would lead to controversy in obtaining organs for transplantation.2 The experts of the committee provide two reasons for their efforts aimed at establishing criteria whereby irreversible coma indicated brain death. First, as much as improved resuscitative and supportive medicine make it possible to save heavily injured patients, coma caused by irreversible damage to the brain leaves the patient in a state between life and death. This circumstance, the committee argues, brings about a multiple burden for the brain-dead patient, for his social environment as well as for the hospital that may not have available the urgently needed beds on the intensive care unit. However, following the committee’s trail of argumentation, this “burden” results from the improvement of medical support systems available to the patient, a statement that is sadly paradoxical. Such measures often only generate a partial success, with the heartbeat and other bodily functions steadied even though the brain of the patient is irreversibly damaged. In such a case, after the completion of two sets of

 Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School (1968), pp. 85–88.



S. Werren

tests and the attestation that all functions of the brain, including the brainstem, are irreversibly lost, one speaks of brain death, or medically more correct, of irreversible cessation of all brain functions.3 Second, in their report, the Harvard committee voices concerns that “obsolete criteria for the definition of death can lead to controversy in obtaining organs for transplantation”.4 A brain-dead patient loses the ability for spontaneous respiration. Without controlled mandatory ventilation, oxygen deficiency inevitably leads to cardiac arrest, a situation that can be postponed for a certain amount of time by means of ventilation and medication. These measures allow a continuous and sufficient perfusion of the organs, which is a precondition for successful organ transplantation. If, on the other hand, the circulatory system collapses, organs become increasingly damaged due to the lack of blood circulation and oxygen supply to the point that they can no longer be transplanted. Eighty countries share the same criteria used for establishing the loss of cranial reflexes. Major differences are in the performance of apnoea testing, the number of physicians required to confirm the diagnosis, and the need for and type of confirmatory tests (for example EEG). Thus, it seems that efforts for setting up criteria to determine brain death have been largely successful, although doubts about the appropriateness of this brain-based account of death continue to be expressed in some countries (e.g. Japan) and in some religious communities. As we shall see later on, one such religious community is part of Jewish Orthodoxy. This “new definition” not only posed problems for legal frameworks or was a challenge to the concepts of life within different religious communities. There was also considerable criticism from within the medical field itself as well as philosophy. Right after the publication of the Harvard criteria the German philosopher Hans Jonas (as well as many others) critically responded to this so-called “new definition” of death.5 In his opinion the main or only motivation for the establishment of this definition is the need for organs within the rising medical subfield of transplantation medicine. Jonas argues that to identify brain death with the death of a human being as a whole and to unnecessarily antedate the time of death to the disadvantage of a maximal definition of death equates to nothing more than violently harming the dying patient. His criticism of brain death illustrates the philosophical and human concern in this ongoing debate—a debate that questions primarily the new terminology from an ethical perspective: what purpose and whose agenda does the invention of “brain death” serve? Why, the philosopher asks, do we need a “new” definition of death altogether? To acknowledge brain death as something like a point of no return on the continuum of a dying patient or to declare new criteria in order to determine death reveal, according to Jonas, different intentions. His recommendation is not simply to erect further impediments to the naturally occurring

 Sarbey (2016), pp. 743–752.  Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School (1968), p. 85. 5  Jonas (1987), pp. 219–241. Unfortunately, this highly impressive book has not yet been translated into English. 3 4

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death of the human organism after the diagnosis of irreversible loss of all brain functions, i.e. brain death. In his opinion the whole concept of brain death constitutes an exaggeration of the cerebral aspect to the disadvantage of the extra-cerebral rest of the body. This exclusive focus on the brain seems to negate the body’s (minus the brain) essential share of the person’s identity: Now, no one will deny that the cerebral aspect is decisive for the quality of life of the organism called “human being”. The position adopted by me does advocate the recommendation that under the circumstance of irreversible, total loss of brain function, the subsequently occurring natural death of the rest of the organism shouldn’t be impeded. But it is no less an exaggeration of the cerebral aspect—as it was an exaggeration of the conscious soul—to deny to the extra-cerebral body its intrinsic share on the identity of the person.6 [Translation S.W.]

Of course, Hans Jonas knows that his opinion is by no means compatible with the act of harvesting vital organs. Jonas would agree to post-mortem retrieval of organs, e.g. the ex-plantation of organs from non-heart-beating donors, aware of the fact that this is not common practice.

Brain–Body Dualism Besides the fact that Hans Jonas challenges this so-called new definition of death, he also criticizes medical science for its dualistic perceptions in the matter. The “new definition” seems like an odd return of the Cartesian mind–body dualism whose naturalistic reincarnation Jonas calls brain–body dualism.7 Similar to the trans-natural dualism of earlier times, he argues that this modern version tries to make us believe that the true human person sits in the brain, or is at least represented by the brain. Consequently, the rest of the body is perceived only in the ratio of a serviceable tool. But Hans Jonas’ opposing view as well as the convictions put forth by clinicians in favour of brain death do not differ from each other per se concerning general body concepts. Other than, for example, in Cartesian dualism with its completely separate entities of the body and mind, Hans Jonas as well as the clinicians discuss the significance of the brain and determination of death in an embodied context. That means that both parties perceive the brain as an integral part of the human body and not something detached from it that constitutes a different essential substance. In my opinion, the philosopher’s argumentation or analogy, which is the term he uses for this comparison, does not serve very well his initial intention of opposing brain death on the grounds of a critique of dualistic concepts. The idea of brain– body dualism in the era of high-tech medicine is indeed very interesting in theory, but fails to be of any substantial importance for the issue at hand, because the brain as an organ, contrary to that of a presumed soul, is part of the human body as much as the heart, skin or eyes. Hence, it may be a better idea to talk about the primary

 Jonas (1987), p. 234.  Jonas (1987), p. 243.

6 7


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role or primacy of the brain over the rest of the body that is tacitly or explicitly assumed. From the perspective of modern medical science, the human brain undoubtedly is of high significance and controls some of the most essential bodily functions like breathing, gag reflexes, body temperature and more. This significance is further constituted by the higher brain functions and the brain’s ability for cognitive control. Consequently, it is not surprising that Western societies perceive the brain as the location per se of human reason, the mind, rational capabilities and intelligence, or the self. Following this train of thought, brain death is perceived as a comprehensible “new” definition of death, additionally supported by medical praxis within the contemporary healthcare setting that has the means and knowledge to take care of long-term patients in an intensive care unit. Even though this embodied primacy of the brain speaks to a physicalistic understanding of the human being rather than the dualism that Jonas claims, some medical scholars and clinicians nevertheless factually agree with the philosopher’s reasoning. In an article about the mind–body dualism from a health perspective, Neeta Mehta argues that “even when unity of mind and body presents a more realistic picture of the human functioning, physicians rather stick to the familiar dualistic thinking to match that of their mentors and colleagues”.8 There are of course many more aspects for a possible critique of the brain death concept(s). Forty years after its formal introduction to the medical world and legal implementation, critiques are still voiced. German philosopher and medical ethicist Ralf Stoecker from the University of Bielefeld argues in his seminal monograph “Der Hirntod” (Brain Death) that doctors and ethicists involved in the brain death debate advocate a certain basic assumption or premise: it is the assumption that with death happening, a dying person loses almost his or her entire moral protection and stops being a moral person. Contrary to this assumption Stoecker strongly argues, as Jonas did more spontaneously before him, in favour of dealing with death, or rather dying, as a process and to dissociate the discourse about brain death from the discourse and ethics of transplantation medicine.9 The aforementioned binary perception of life and death, accompanied by the necessity to determine the exact time of death, also characterizes the Jewish Orthodox brain death controversy. It seems to me that the merging of the two discourses of brain death and organ donation does contribute to the complexity of the issue.

Jewish Orthodoxies and the Brain Death Controversy Before dealing with the intricacies of the debate itself, a few words about the term “Orthodoxy” and its context of use. The term “Orthodoxy” is problematic, first, on the grounds of terminology itself, and second, in respect to different cultural contexts.

 Mehta (2011).  Stoecker (2010).

8 9

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Within the academic field of Religionswissenschaft one often hears the statement that Jewish Orthodoxy (gr. orthós/right, gr. dóxa/believing) should rather be termed Orthopraxy (right behaviour) since contrary to the Christian context, for example, Judaism is preoccupied more with deeds than beliefs. This classification is not completely wrong, but also ignores the term “Orthodoxy” within its context of formation during the period of the Jewish Enlightenment in eighteenth and nineteenth-­century Germany.10 At some point Torah-observant Jews started to use the term Orthodox as an autonym (besides other expressions like gesetzestreu (law-­abiding)), and still do so, at least in German and English-speaking countries, where Modern Orthodoxy as religious self-identification is used more often as an autonym than Ultra-Orthodoxy. Especially in Israel, but also globally, the equivalent term for the latter would be Jahadut Haredit and its adherents call themselves Haredim (God-fearing Jews). This umbrella term for the most traditionalist branch within the Jewish religious spectrum itself serves as a generalization to a quite diverse group (mainly Hasidim and Litvish/Yeshivish Jews). In Israel, the non-Hebrew term Orthodoxy—translated neither linguistically nor fully culturally—encompasses the Dati Leumi (national religious), also known as religious Zionists (Zionut Datit/religious Zionism), and the Hardalim (Haredi Dati Leumi). However, the Israeli equivalent religious concept of Modern Orthodoxy could possibly be Zionut Datit.11 Thus, Modern Orthodoxy and Ultra-Orthodoxy, even though used as emic terms, are terminological cumulations applied to different Jewish religious traditions and often rough approximations to the lived-in world of observant Jews. At the core of the issue about the religious acceptance or rejection of the (various) brain death concept(s) lies the question of whether an irreversibly brain-­ damaged person is already dead or dying according to the respective Jewish religious culture. Scholars and thinkers within different Jewish denominations must find answers and solutions to these ethical challenges created by technological and medical developments. While respective elite discourses within Reform and Conservative Judaism12 are largely in accord with the brain death criteria and allow for organ donation, there is more of a debate within the Orthodox camp. It is interesting to observe that this demarcation line for or against the halachic (religio-legal) acceptance of brain death coincides with the aforementioned socio-religious boundaries that exist within Jewish Orthodoxy, namely Modern Orthodoxy, which by and large accepts the brain death concept, and Ultra-Orthodoxy, which rejects it. On the one hand, it is somewhat surprising that there can be such fundamental differences regarding the determination of death in modern times within a relatively small religious culture that by and large shares the same religious literature, religious law,

 Blutinger (2007), pp. 310–328.  Further see Don-Yehiya (2005), pp. 157–187. 12  Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative Judaism are often subsumed under the umbrella term Progressive Judaism. Their members have in common not to organize their lives according to halachic rules (except the Conservatives to a certain degree). 10 11


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hermeneutical methods and practices.13 The question why this is the case is certainly justified, not least because the Orthodox debate itself and the halachic search for “the right answer” in the matter continued for decades until a difference of opinions became acceptable—at least to many of the experts who were involved. On the other hand, one may counter that a presumed unanimity misjudges the social and cultural diversity of Jewish Orthodoxy from the start, as pointed out above. Furthermore, Talmudic dialectics and traditional Jewish learning are very disputatious—in the positive sense of the word. Disputation is the mode of reflection. Dissent or contradiction are, so to speak, a systematically inherent way of reasoning. The machloqet, the dispute, is the main characteristic of the two Tannaitic sages Hillel and Shammai and their “houses” or schools. They were in constant disagreement about matters of religious law (Halacha) and practice. Contrary to contemporary situations, the Talmudic statement that Halacha should be decided in accordance with the House of Hillel that ruled more leniently than the House of Shammai seems to have created a pre-classification of the disputed results.14 Thus, different results in analysing Halacha are expected and rabbinic discord is certainly a common occurrence. Stating and taking this into consideration, the following argumentation aims at discussing the Orthodox brain death controversy in relation to Halacha, albeit severely simplified and narrowed down to the question of respiration, as well as meta- and extra-halachic factors.

Jewish Law and Medical Science Jewish Orthodox reasoning is very text-based. The basic knowledge to answer any issue, including the question of whether brain death is halachic death or not, has its foundation in the Talmud, its commentaries and responsa. The vast responsa literature is based on the model of “questions and answers” (she’ilot u’teshuvot), with the answers given by halachic authorities. Leading religious authorities like Rav Moshe Feinstein (1895–1986, Belarus/New York) and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (1910–1995, Israel) were constrained to find answers to such a complex question that had to be consistent with Jewish law. But the fact that there was no obvious analogy or precedent to be found in rabbinic literature made things complicated right from the start, when the first successful human heart transplant in Cape Town, South Africa, (1967) brought the question of how to define death to international attention. Within the Orthodox context, evaluation of a problem that otherwise can be called an ethical issue is dealt within a legal framework. Jewish Orthodoxy is not actually preoccupied with what we call bioethical issues, or maybe only indirectly; first of  According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews, 10% of the Jewish population in the United States are Orthodox with roughly two thirds self-identifying as Haredi and one third as Modern Orthodox. See sites/11/2015/08/Orthodox-Jews-08-24-PDF-for-web.pdf. Accessed 21 October 2017. 14  See Babylonian Talmud (bT), Eruvin 13b. 13

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all, it is a religio-legal issue.15 The word ethics, in the way practical philosophy uses it, does not even have equivalent roots in classical Hebrew. Consequently, the term “medical Halacha” is actually more precise, even though many publications in the field apply such titles as “Jewish medical ethics” or “Jewish bioethics”. A medical halachic question would entail, for example, whether and how a patient is allowed to use an electrically operated nebulizer on Shabbat, assuming that its use is physician-directed in a case of strong allergic reaction to pollen, in order to prevent a dangerous after-effect like congestion of the lungs or asthma. Although this case is an example of the idiosyncratic needs of Orthodox Jews due to their observance of Jewish law and thus not a primary ethical issue, the case just described is approached in the same way as any other question that would meet the factual criteria of being an ethics case from the perspective of practical ethics or philosophy. Whether or under what circumstances it is legitimate to withdraw medical care from a dying patient, use donor sperm for artificial reproduction or endorse organ donation is assessed in the same way as any other issue. In general, the classic halachic approach of solving problems—including questions of “medical ethics”—is that of analogy with an existing halachic ruling.16 Strict adherence to this approach is also called halachic formalism and is a process of seeking a precedent, no matter how remote, in order to be able to make a positive statement about a halachic response to a certain issue. This means that the halachic system is perceived as a flawless system that was revealed to Moses and Israel on Mount Sinai and thus has to offer a normative response to any situation and question without reference to anything outside itself.17 It is an autopoietic system. There is, of course, respectable critique concerning halachic formalism. Rabbi Daniel Gordis from the Conservative Movement frames a critical response to this kind of halachic formalism, especially when applied in the context of ethical decision-making: To pretend to find any precedent for this type of issue destroys the meaning of the original case, and, in many instances, stresses a non-essential trait which the cases share in common at the expense of never addressing the new ethical agenda at hand.18

Gordis’ assessment expresses the concern that halachic formalism and the forced search for analogous passages in the Talmud inevitably misses the ethical agenda at  This conclusion, even though nothing new for Orthodox thinkers, is necessary in order to clearly state that the framework for Orthodox authorities is the traditional religio-legal one. This framework as a whole (Halacha) is understood to be “ethical”. From a Western (or philosophical) perspective and language, questions about the beginning and end of life are presumed to be questions of “ethics”. Halacha is thus better compared with secular state law, i.e. a legal system, that in turn is pre-informed by other carriers of meaning like Christian ethics or the like. 16  See Bick (1993), p. 28. His article is a discursive response to another article published two years earlier in the same journal. The authors, both Orthodox rabbis, state their methodological approaches in the context of another medical halachic subject, the determination of halachic maternity. For that matter see also Bleich (1991), pp. 82–102 and Bleich (1994), pp. 52–57. 17  Roth (1986). 18  Gordis (1989), p. 29. 15


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hand. Whether or not one wishes to counter-argue in the sense of the aforementioned concept of autopoiesis of Jewish law and dismiss the search of an ethical issue in a process of halachic problem-solving, Gordis’ concern and critique is not the only one of its kind in the Orthodox world. Even moderate Orthodox scholars are sometimes at odds with this conventional method. Rabbi Ezra Bick, an Orthodox rabbi and teacher at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut, Israel, states a similar frustration in a minor rabbinic debate with Rabbi David Bleich on the issue of maternal identity in the era of assisted reproduction technologies. Bick holds the opinion that: If conventional halakhic methodology fails, the result should not be desperate attempts to preserve a semblance of halakhic reasoning. There may be questions to which conventional halakhic methodology provides no sources, no solutions.19

Bick’s proposition, at least regarding the general discussion about halachic determination of maternity in the context of contemporary artificial reproduction, should be to formulate the conceptual question involved. Concerning the issue of determination of halachic maternity with its legal intricacies in cases of egg donation, the most basic question should address the sages’ questionable concept of conception. Furthermore, Daniel Gordis raises another important objection against the classic approach: Another danger of the approach to text that mandates that every case must be answered by means of precedent is that the search for such a precedent will often lead to unnecessarily and unacceptably conservative results.20

While this is not the place to verify or falsify this statement, it nonetheless indicates that strict adherence to precedents in a context where new scientific knowledge and practices must be analysed on top of other scientific paradigms that are usually implicit to the analysed cases in the Talmud and the following rabbinic literature, leads at least to partially opaque and unintelligible halachic reasoning. In the following section let us turn to some of the key texts usually referred to in the Orthodox debate on brain death. The goal is to point out the interdependence of halachic methodology, the different scientific paradigms, and religious authority in different interpretive communities.

 he Orthodox Brain Death Controversy: Respiration, Brain T and Heartbeat The prime Talmudic passage for the discussion of how death should be determined or defined in Jewish law is found in tractate Yoma (85a), part of the Seder Moed, Jewish festivals.

19 20

 Bick (1993), p. 32.  Gordis (1989), p. 30.

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A passage in the Mishna addresses a case regarding a person on whom rubble has fallen on Shabbat or a holiday, and of whom it is not clear whether he is trapped and, if he is trapped, whether he is alive or dead. In the case that the person is alive, the Mishna states that clearing away the rubble on Shabbat or Yom Kippur is obligatory, even if it will only buy the person a few moments of life. The Mishna further rules that the person on the site has to continue digging only as long as there is a chance of finding a live victim. The Gemara then discusses how it can be determined whether a victim is alive once he or she is found21: Our Rabbis taught: How far does one examine? Up to his nose. Some say: Up to his heart. (Some texts read: heb. tiburo = his navel.) […] Rav Papa said: The dispute is [uncovering the victim] from bottom to top [i.e. feet first], but if [the victim is uncovered] from top to bottom, once one has checked up to his nostrils [for signs of breath], one need not check any further, as it is written: ‘All in whose nostrils was the spirit of the breath of life.’ (Genesis 7:22)

In the first periscope (“our rabbis taught”) one party states that one should check up to the nose for breathing, while the second party states “up to the heart” in order to examine if a heartbeat can be detected. The final statement of this passage (“Rav Papa said”) at least partially resolves the disagreement by explaining that there is only dissension between the rabbis in a situation when the rescuer finds the victim by his feet or legs and is digging upwards towards the head. If he approaches the victim from top to bottom, it is enough to check for breathing. But the other way around it is questionable whether he is obliged to continue digging up to the nose in order to check for breathing, or has to stop when he reaches the chest when there is no heartbeat (or rise and fall of the chest?) discernible. Halachically, it is of tremendous importance to be able to determine the exact time of death, since one must desecrate Shabbat to extend or save a person’s life, but it is forbidden to do so in the case of a dead body. So, if the missing heartbeat is a sufficient sign of death, then further excavation constitutes a violation of Shabbat. But if the examination of the nose is a prerequisite, then the act of further digging is not a transgression, but pikuach nefesh, saving someone’s life. The most influential halachic codices22 ­written by Maimonides (1135–1204) and Joseph Karo (1488–1575) comment on the passage in Yoma and confirm the Talmudic conclusion by Rav Papa that checking up to the nostrils for breathing is the necessary action in such a case. Maimonides’ comment in his Mishne Torah states: If they find him alive, even if his body is crushed, and there is no chance he will recover, they continue clearing the rubble and remove him [from the rubble] for those few moments

 The translation of the passages goes according to Bin Nun (2015), pp. 117–151 and Reifman (2012), pp. 9–12. 22  Those codices were structured differently from the Talmud and produced with the intention of facilitating a faster retrieval of halachic information in everyday legal decision-making. 21


S. Werren of life. If they check up to his nose and find no breath, they leave him [until after Shabbat or the holiday], since he is already dead.23

Similarly, Joseph Karo in the Shulchan Aruch asserts that: Even if they find his body crushed, and there is no chance he can live more than a few moments, they continue clearing the rubble, and check up to his nose. If they detect no evidence of life in his nostrils, then he is certainly dead, and it doesn’t matter whether they reached his head first or whether they reached his feet first.24

It is interesting to note that neither Maimonides nor the Shulchan Aruch mention the machloqet, the dispute regarding the situation if the victim is first found by his feet. Karo even states straightforwardly that the victim’s position is irrelevant and both commentaries perceive respiration as the sole indicator of life. But, in the vast sea of halachic literature and commentaries there is one rabbinic scholar whose comment on the passage in Yoma creates additional dispute within the already hot debate. Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak, or better known by his acronym Rashi, a most important and famous commentator on the Talmud who lived in eleventh-­century France, gives this explanation to the reasoning behind the “below upwards” situation with the following words: For one says: In (with) his heart one can discern if there is life (vital signs), since his neshama [life force] beats there. And other say: we examine up to his nose, for sometimes life is not discernible at the heart, but is discernible at the nose.

Rashi himself does not add his conclusion to the difference in opinion between the Talmudic sages; he only adds another explanation to the case. According to Daniel Reifman, a contemporary Israeli scholar, Rashi’s comment suggests that both parties recognize heart activity as a potential indicator of life, and differ only as to whether examination of the nose is more reliable because an examination of the heart alone would not suffice. And this formulation creates an important impact on opinion within the Orthodox brain death controversy, since it “has been understood to mean that Rashi recognizes cardiac activity as a definitive indicator of life, and the only reason for requiring examination of the nose is that respiration is more easily detected than the heartbeat.”25 Brain death proponents assess the passage as confirmation that respiration is the main indicator for determining death. They argue that since respiration is located in the brain stem, the modern criteria for brain death are congruent with Halacha. Opponents to this line of reasoning insist on the inclusion of other factors, with heart activity being of crucial significance. For the follower of this assessment, irreversible loss of all brain functions including the brain stem does not equate to death of the person altogether. Besides the fact that Yoma has become one of the main precedents within the debate over “halachic death” in our contemporary medical setting, its use begs discussion on the question of translation, namely the problem of

 bT Shabbat, Chap. 2. pp. 18–19.  bT Orach Chaim, p. 329. 25  Reifman (2012), p. 14. 23 24

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situation-related translatability or its impossibility when using precedents, as well as the incommensurability of scientific paradigms. Regarding the first question, the situation of a brain-dead patient in our contemporary medical setting completely differs from the aforementioned situation presented in Yoma. First of all, this sugya (passage) raises the issue of rescue on Shabbat and Yom Kippur and thus pushes for determination of one indicator over the other (respiration over heart beat), in order to prevent a transgression of the laws of Shabbat. But if the passage is chosen as a situational precedent within the modern medical context of brain death, then the push for one indicator over all others (the total loss of brain function) would be mandatory only in order to prevent the transgression of the laws of the state (e.g. an act of killing a person to obtain his organs). But that’s the fly in the ointment, since, first, such “triage” is not necessary under normal circumstances, and second, a person buried in rubble certainly is not directly comparable to a brain-dead patient in an ICU, supported by all kinds of mechanical equipment. Both Rabbi Moshe Zalman Auerbach and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the most notable halachic authorities within this controversy, draw this obvious conclusion. In private communication with Rabbi Dr. Abraham S. Abraham, an Israeli physician and Jewish scholar, Rabbi Auerbach says the following words: Rav Auerbach zt”l told me that this halachah was based on the extant medical knowledge at the time. Since there was no treatment for a patient who had stopped breathing, even if his heart was still beating, there was no point in setting aside Sabbath laws for him as there was no way that his life could be saved or even prolonged. Therefore, the question of whether his heart was still beating or not was immaterial. Today, however, since treatment is available, full resuscitation efforts must be made as long as there is even a remote chance that the patient might be saved.26

In regard to the special situation of a brain-dead patient, Auerbach feels that the halachic category of such a patient should be one of safek chai/safek met, doubtful alive/doubtful dead, and therefore someone whose death is legally indeterminate. This halachic category differs from the classic definition regarding a gosses, or moribund person whose death is imminent. Rabbi Feinstein’s approach is a bit different. He tries to translate the classic position of “death is determined by cessation of respiration” into modern medical reality and its very different scientific paradigm, thus stating that “death is determined by the permanent cessation of heart and brain activity capable of supporting ­autonomous respiration”.27 The problem with Feinstein’s written responsa on questions regarding organ donation and brain death is that there is controversy as to whether he accepts or rejects them. The most widely accepted halachic authority within Orthodoxy at the time (dying in 1986), Moshe Feinstein possessed the knowledge and authority to possibly “solve” the dispute. But his responsa and oral communications, posthumously made known by different scholars and family members, are

26 27

 Abraham (2006), p. 219.  Reifman (2015), p. 217.


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part of the discomfiture within the wider Orthodox camp, since they do not provide an unambiguous position on the question.28 However, before turning to the translatability of paradigms, I want to reconsider the aforementioned critique by Rabbi Daniel Gordis, who states that the adherence to precedents in the realm of contemporary medical ethics “destroys the meaning of the original case” and prevents consideration of the “new ethical issue at hand” within the discursive context of the Orthodox brain death controversy. First, in responsa and statements, such as the one quoted by Rabbi Auerbach and Rabbi Feinstein, it becomes evident that Haredi authorities are aware of situational differences between ancient, Talmudic cases and the case at hand. It is usually the traditionalists themselves who dismiss the analogy, precisely because it is obvious that the precedent that best fits the case does not translate well enough. This is the reason why most Haredi authorities do not go by the criteria of respiration and brain function alone. Indeed, this creates what Gordis’ critique entails—a conservative stance, and it may miss the ethical agenda at hand (most probably preventing organ donation), at least from the perspective of a modern scientific outlook; but from a Haredi point of view it does not even constitute an ethical issue. It is a matter of Jewish law, and thus a legal issue. For Haredi legal interpreters there does not exist any given translatability per se between the halachic system and the ethical issue or agenda at hand. Interestingly, if we adhere to the sugya in Yoma, for Haredi poskim there is a precedent, but no analogy. For their modern Orthodox colleagues, there is a precedent as well as an analogy, since the sugya seemingly fits the criteria of brain stem death. Accordingly, the translatability seems to be successful, otherwise Orthodox brain stem death proponents like Rabbi Moshe Tendler, who also happens to be a biologist and is the son-in-law of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, would not be so deeply convinced that brain stem death is by all means halachic death. Second, and the reason why the reaction by philosopher Hans Jonas serves as important input: Jonas addresses the issue of brain death and organ donation from an ethical, albeit not religious perspective. He does not miss the ethical issue at hand, but dismisses the criteria, which he feels are used to legitimize organ transplantation. So, it is not the precedent-driven approach or methodology per se, as many non-Orthodox rabbis like Rabbi Gordis claim to be the initial problem;instead, it is an issue of interpretive communities and paradigms.

Paradigms and Interpretive Communities Let us turn to the problem of different scientific paradigms that adds another layer of complexity to the debate. The aforementioned “untranslatability” between different systems of analysis, i.e. religio-legal, philosophical, scientific, seems to be concerning different paradigms as well.

 See the study of the Vaad Halacha of the Rabbinical Council of America on Halachic Issues in the Determination of Death and in Organ Transplantation. Issues_the_Determination.pdf. Accessed 26 October 2017.


Hermeneutics of Modern Death: Science, Philosophy and the Brain Death Controversy…


In his comment on the passage in Yoma, Rashi uses a different Talmud edition as compared to practically all other important halachic authorities of the time who comment on the passage. The word in Rashi’s edition is heart (lev/ad libo=up to the heart). But in all other versions the word navel is used instead of heart (ad tiburo=up to the navel). Daniel Reifman reasonably argues that the choice of the term libo: Indicates not only the extent of uncovering the victim but also its purpose: we uncover the victim until the “heart area” (i.e., the chest) in order to verify heart function. But a survey of instances of the term libbo in Tannaitic sources shows that in virtually every other context in which it refers to a part of the body (as opposed to a state of mind), it cannot plausibly be explained as having such a dual connotation: libbo is consistently used idiomatically to refer simply to the external chest area, with no connection to the heart organ that lies beneath.29

This conclusion questions the role of heartbeat altogether, since the examination of the chest area speaks indeed for a check-up of the victim’s respiration because the rise and fall of the chest indicates this. Reifman concludes that pre-modern halachic sources that address medical topics must be assessed in light of Thomas Kuhn’s model of scientific paradigms.30 The challenge in applying pre-modern halachic texts to contemporary medical issues is that different paradigms are incommensurable, meaning that there cannot be a strictly precise translation of terminology from one paradigm to another. This happens for example with Rashi’s reference to heart function because Rashi could not have had in mind anything remotely resembling modern medicine’s conception of heart function. The result or outcome, of course further complicated by additional sources and commentaries, are two halachic realities, not compatible with each other. On the one hand, brain death is halachically accepted death and the inability for spontaneous respiration is the only factor necessary to declare a person’s death if the brain stem is irreversibly damaged. Consequently, organ donation by a brain-dead donor can be encouraged. On the other hand, brain death is refuted and not accepted as halachic death because the heart is as much an indicator of life as human respiration and both have to cease in order to accept a person’s death. To explant an organ from such a patient is considered murder or even “bloodshed” by some of the most influential rabbinic authorities in the debate, like Rabbi Auerbach and Rabbi Elyashiv.31The Orthodox brain death controversy shows how the production and governance of knowledge, both scientific and religious knowledge alike, depend on processes of legitimization within a specific interpretive community. Text interpretation, premises about sovereignties of certain fields of knowledge, and authorityoriented understanding of community are heavily intertwined. Decisions, to be made for example by a Haredi Jew, happen in a certain interpretive community, which is ruled and regulated by halachic authorities and rabbinic leaders whose decisions are respected and followed. Thus, with literary theorist Stanley Fish we may comprehend that “interpretive activities are not free, but what constrains them

 Reifman (2012), p. 12.  Kuhn (2012). 31  Abraham (2003), p. 308. See further the positions of different religious leaders on brain death and organ transplantation on pp. 307–317. 29 30


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are the understood practices and assumptions of the institution and not the rules and fixed meanings of a language system”.32The existence of these two halachic realities shows that trust in the uncertainty of the dying process as well as in the medical determination of death are both legitimate options within the same religious normative framework. The histories of these two halachic realities, as they coexist today, do not take place without major struggle within Orthodox communities. Complementary to the binary understanding of this struggle that involves religious as well as medical truth claims, politics must be taken into account. Differently than in the United States, brain death and organ donation within the Israeli context are subjects strongly intertwined with different piskei halacha, from various rabbinic authorities within the Haredi sector, and the Chief Rabbinate. The latter unanimously affirmed already in 1986 that brain stem death, including irreversible cessation of spontaneous respiration, constitutes death. Accordingly, they also legitimized transplantation of donor hearts under the condition that a member of a committee supervised by the ministry of health, including a member of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, oversees all heart transplants.During a research visit to Israel in 2011, I interviewed the hospital rabbi in one of Israel’s so-called “religious” hospitals.33 He is in charge of the hospital’s halachic affairs, including medical Halacha. In answering my question about the hospital’s policy regarding organ donation, he gives the following response. D. Blaufarb34: There have been a few cases where the family, where it would be assumed there was brain death and the family expressed their wish to do organ transplants and we let them go by ambulance to another hospital where it’s done, but we do not do it at Hospital X,35 because we go according to Rav Eliashiv—who should live for many years—and other great rabbonim [rabbis] who are against it, who consider it murder. Not only against it, who consider it murder. But it’s not that Rav Eliashiv is against organ donations, he’s not against this. It’s just a, there’s no way to do it, ah, he goes by the heart and not by the brain and there’s no way to do it. […] The question is not the question of organ donation, the question is when is the end of life. Is it brain death or is it when the heart ceases? And this is, there are different opinions between very very great rabbonim [rabbis] and there are on both sides very great rabbonim who insist that they are right. And it’s not a question who’s more strict, less strict. There are great rabbonim on both sides.

 Fish (1980), p. 306.  The following interview was conducted during field work for my dissertation project on Jewish bioethics. One set of questions dealt extensively with the issue of brain death and the policy of the respective hospital. 34  D. Blaufarb is a pseudonym. 35  The hospital management agreed to the interview under the condition that its name won’t be disclosed. 32 33

Hermeneutics of Modern Death: Science, Philosophy and the Brain Death Controversy…


Rabbi Blaufarb’s answer shows how, on a practical level, both halachic realities, after almost 50 years of controversy, coexist today. “There are great rabbonim on both sides” thus pronounces the social aspect of halachic decision-making36 by means of acknowledging that there are different interpretive communities that seek out the advice of one or the other religious authority. Even though, according to Waxman, it is especially difficult for Ultra-Orthodox Jews to acknowledge social forces or any social scope in halachic decision-making, the process of seeking out and receiving halachic advice is an utterly social one.

Concluding Reflections and Closure In his 1986 essay The Halakhic Mind, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the foremost religious leader, thinker and halachic authority for many non-Haredi Jews in the United States, gives a strikingly concise perception of the relation between the physical (science) and the metaphysical (philosophy) world views: The scientific method, which exalts the microscopic idea and integrates reality out of the simplest elements, has collided with the metaphysical world-view which strives towards boundless ontological totality. As a result of this conflict, new vistas now beckon to the homo religiosus.37

As a matter of fact, this clash of perspectives, the microscopic idea and the perspective of science and the boundless ontological view of philosophy, delivers the big picture of the brain death controversy depicted above. But consequently, this conflict not only beckons new vistas to the “homo religiosus”, but beckons more dilemmas. The human body is a battlefield for the constitution of hegemonies and the erection of new truth claims. Science is a contested knowledge producer and is premised upon authority—an “authority that is premised on the scientific basis on which its knowledge has been built up and warranted true and effective”.38 Since religion as social praxis and philosophy are contested knowledge producers, clashes over the authority of knowledge are inevitable. As I have shown, Jonas’ critique attempts to re-establish philosophy’s claim to power over medical science, since the latter touches the “sovereign” territory of meta-physics by proclaiming a “new definition” of death. Further, it is possible to read Jonas’ statements as an enterprise of correctional re-establishment of the

 This is an integral part of a not yet well researched concept that sociologist Chaim Waxman named “the sociology of psak”. See Waxman (1991). 37  Soloveitchik (1986), p. 3. 38  Cunningham and Andrews (1997), p. 6. 36


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paradigmatic power relations between the realm of the fact or data producer, i.e. physics (science), and the data interpreter, i.e. meta-physics (philosophy). The acknowledgement that each framework of knowledge production, whether science, philosophy or religion, constitutes an interpretive community in its own right, may contribute to a certain conciliatory stance within debates that seem to repeat truth claims in a continuous loop. The above deliberations on the determination of death in a modern medical setting and various interactions with this new medical praxis, including organ transplantation, seek to challenge previously stated notions that in its search for truth and enlightened wisdom, the human body and its mundane desires and affects have largely been neglected in Western thought. Privileging the aesthetics of the mind and the spiritual realm of human existence, the body has even been pushed aside. The premise that Western thought is equivalent to a ratio-driven heir of Protestant Christianity and philosophical conceptions rooted in the Enlightenment is briefly discussed in relation to Hans Jonas’ rejection of such obsolete models that cumulate in the erection of new models similar to old dualistic ones. He shares the same concern that other secular brain death critics and religious agents like Haredi Jews who reject the concept have in common. Their criticism, whether explicit or implicit, is directed at the dissociation of curative measures for the body (medical cure) and curative measures for the soul (spiritual care or religious support). From an institutional point of view, the hospital as institution and the healthcare system, both important parts of “Western” lives, have only recently started to reinstate “spirituality” and “religion” as sanative factors within the medical setting. So here, it is usually the soul or the spiritual realm, and ultimately religious needs, that are ignored, neglected or pushed aside, and not the body as a conceptual category. This is the main reason behind demands that claim a more holistic medical system. Another important point for discussion in this section on “Religion, Gender, Body and Material Culture” has been the question of how we can open up our research perspectives towards a closer incorporation of the body and its adaptation into contemporary theory of religion (and the secular) and thereby overcome traditionally held dichotomies between body and mind. Setting aside the first part of the question, it is clear that the second part examines how discussions can overcome the traditionally held dichotomies between body and mind within the field of contemporary theory of religion. From the perspective of a humanities scholar who is mostly preoccupied with questions of ethics and ­medicine, I hold the opinion that approaches that do not shy away from interdisciplinarity, but rather embrace its potential for creative perception, will always challenge traditionally held dichotomies, regardless of their initial disciplinary homeland. But it is doubtful whether it is possible to totally overcome dichotomies and maybe not even necessary, since thinking itself often happens in a comparative and thus binary mode. As a pragmatic solution, I propose that we be aware of existing or potential dichotomies and try to include, in a deconstructive way for example, both sides or parts of whatever dichotomy we deal with, and that we further try to understand their limits, interdependencies and feedback mechanisms.

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References Abraham, S. Abraham. 2003. Nishmat Avraham: Medical halachah for doctors, nurses, healthcare personnel and patients. Vol. 2. New York: Mesorah Publications. ———. 2006. Medical halachah for doctors, nurses, health-care personnel and patients. Vol. 1. 2nd ed. New York: Mesorah Publications. Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School. 1968. A definition of irreversible coma. Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School to examine the definition of brain death. JAMA 205 (6): 85–88. Bick, Ezra. 1993. Ovum donations: A rabbinic conceptual model of maternity. Tradition 28 (1): 28–45. Bin Nun, J. 2015. Jewish law and medical science. In Halakhic realities. Collected essays on brain death, ed. Zev Farber, 117–151. Jerusalem: Maggid Books. Bleich, David J. 1991. Survey of recent halakhic periodical literature. Vitro fertilization: Questions of maternal identity and conversion. Tradition 25: 4. ———. 1994. Survey of recent halakhic periodical literature. Maternal identity revisited. Tradition 28 (2): 52–57. Blutinger, Jeffrey C. 2007. ‘So-called orthodoxy’: The history of an unwanted label. Modern Judaism 27 (3): 310–328. Cunningham, Andrew, and Bridie Andrews. 1997. Introduction. In Western medicine as contested knowledge, ed. Andrew Cunningham and Bridie Andrews, 1–23. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Don-Yehiya, Eliezer. 2005. Orthodox Jewry in Israel and in North American diaspora. Israel Studies 10 (1): 157–187. Fish, Stanley. 1980. Is there a text in this class? The authority of interpretive communities. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Gordis, Daniel H. 1989. Wanted: The ethical in Jewish bioethics. Judaism 38 (1): 28–40. Jonas, Hans. 1987. Technik, Medizin und Ethik. Praxis des Prinzips Verantwortung. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. Kuhn, Thomas S. 2012. The structure of scientific revolutions. 4th ed. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press. Reifman, Daniel. 2012. Ancient sources, modern problems: A methodological analysis of rashi’s position on brainstem death. Tradition 45 (4): 9–21. ———. 2015. Rabbi moshe feinstein on brainstem death: A reassessment. In Halakhic realities. Collected essays on brain death, ed. Zev Farber, 117–151. Jerusalem: Maggid Books. Roth, Joel. 1986. The halakhic process. A systemic analysis. New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Sarbey, Ben. 2016. Definitions of death: Brain death and what matters in a person. Journal of Law and the Biosciences 3 (3): 743–752. Soloveitchik, Joseph B. 1986. The halakhic mind. An essay on Jewish tradition and modern thought. New York/London: Seth Press. Stoecker, Ralf. 2010. Der Hirntod. Ein medizinethisches Problem und seine moralphilosophische Transformation. 2nd ed. Freiburg/München: Verlag Karl Alber. Waxman, Chaim I. 1991. Towards a sociology of psak. Tradition 25 (3): 12–25.

Internet Sources Mehta, Neeta. 2011. Mind-body dualism: A critique from a health perspective. Mens Sana Monographs 9: 1. Retreived from

Part II

Religion, Economics and Development: Interaction of Discursive Spheres

New Technologies’ Promise to the Self and the Becoming of the Sacred: Insights from Georges Bataille’s Concept of Transgression Céline Righi

Abstract  This article draws on Georges Bataille’s concept of transgression, a key element in Bataille’s theory of the sacred, to highlight structural implications of the way the self-empowerment ethos of new technologies suffuses the digital tracking culture. Pointing to the original conceptual stance of transgression, worked out against prohibition, I first argue that, beyond a critique of new technologies’ promise of self-empowerment as coming at the expense of an acknowledgement of the ultimate taboo—death—is the problem of the sanitizing of the tension between the crossing of the line of the symbolic taboo and prohibition; this undermines a “libidinal investment” towards the sacred, which is central in Bataille’s theory. Second, focussing on “eroticism”, since this embodies the emancipative potential of the Bataillean sacred, I argue that while a fear of eroticism marks out the digital technological realm, this is covered up by the blurring of boundaries between pleasure, fun and sex(iness) that currently governs our experience with technological devices.

Introduction Recent ethnographic and anthropological studies on the interpenetration of the sacred and the new political economy1 not only provide rich empirical material to counter the “disenchanted world” thesis.2 These studies bring to the fore how demands for renewed spiritualities, expressions of faith and emotional regimes focussing on happiness and well-being (e.g. the New Age movement) are intertwined with the social, cultural and symbolic order shaped by neoliberal ideology

1   Gauthier and Martikainen (2013a), Gauthier and Martikainen (2013b), Deane-Drumond et al. (2015). 2  Gauchet (1997).

C. Righi (*) Independent Scholar, London, UK e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 J. Hensold et al. (eds.), Religion in Motion,



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and consumerism. Scrutinizing the way consumerism and the religious entangle themselves under the auspices of the ethos of the self-entrepreneur, Gauthier and Martikainen3 note that “religion and faith have become operational with respect to the widespread eschatology of self-realisation.”4 By referring to the Greek term eskhatos, the study of the most remote point in time and space, the authors highlight the bold endeavour which fuels consumerist and neoliberal societies’ imaginary. At stake is not merely the self’s empowerment in the here and now, it is the promise of a human destiny akin to an immortal soul. The “eschatology of self-realisation” finds no better illustration than in manifestos written by fervent proponents of the role of digital technologies in supporting individuals’ quest towards a better life, mainly represented in the Quantified Self movement, the self-tracking culture and digital health. “Is there anything more sacred than serving at the altar of our Holy Efficiency?” Horace Fletcher’s question here, and long ago obsessive concern for self-measurement, has become the slogan of data experts who praise self-tracking digital apps for the sake of enhanced sleep, digestion, cognitive ability and so on.5 Striving for perfection beyond human limitation is also the aim of many a computer scientist and Silicon Valley game designer, such as Jane McGonigal, who claims that technology and game can “help ordinary people achieve the most, cure cancer, stop climate change or end poverty.”6 New technologies have become the medium through which we engage with the world (sensuously, cognitively, intellectually and affectively) and communicate with others. Connected devices, captors, sensors, have come to form “a weave of networked perception, [which] wraps every space, every place, every thing and body on earth” underlines Greenfield.7 As the sacred begins to be seen as the “dynamic context, in which we have our being and becoming,”8 equally, the ubiquitous presence of digital technologies partakes to the development of semantic frameworks interwoven with those which form the “new ordering of the sacred.”9 This article explores the relationship between the sacred and the realm of digital technologies that, nowadays, spread across all domains of social and economic life, from politics to cooking, and citizenship to running. What kind of sacred may be at play in the context of a “widespread eschatology of the self” that suffuses the digital

 Gauthier and Martikainen (2013b).  Gauthier and Martikainen (2013b), p, 15. For Gauthier and Martikainen, consumerism succeeds in shaping new ways of relating to the sacred, since consumerism amplifies a modern cultural trend that has developed over centuries through the awakening of the “primacy of authenticity”, “individuation” and “increasing appeal to emotions”; all of which ascribes a central role in the subject’s life to the “self-realization” ethos. The growing attention paid to the individual as an emotional being, endowed with interiority, thinking of him/herself without referring to a supra order can be traced back to Saint Augustine according to the authors. 5  Fletcher (1913). 6  See McGonigal’s website: Accessed 01 Aug 2018. 7  Greenfield (2017), p. 31. 8  Kull (2006), p. 786. 9  Szerszynski (2005). 3 4

New Technologies’ Promise to the Self and the Becoming of the Sacred: Insights…


technological realm and the use of digital devices by individuals? My aim is to disentangle an understanding of the sacred from the pervasiveness of the self-­ empowerment ethos in the technological realm, one that is profoundly shaping the “spirit of our time”10: a spirit that could be summarized by the phrase now sometimes seen in advertising of “know your data self”, which is itself merely the latest incarnation of the “reflexive project of the self”, held as a hallmark of modernity (Giddens 1991).11 In the face of the smooth and friendly interface displayed by new technologies, I chose to draw on the intoxicating philosophical work of Georges Bataille, and especially on his theory of the sacred and the key notion of transgression. A member of the College of Sociology, a group of French intellectuals (including Michel Leiris and Roger Callois), Georges Bataille aimed to study all manifestations of the sacred; that is, impurity as much as purity, bringing forth reflection on death, excess, nudity or eroticism. Bataille’s thought-provoking analysis of the phenomena of the sacred, as seen for example in images of degradation in a cemetery or of the sacrifice of a priest in The Story of the Eye,12 set the philosopher well outside of a definition of the Western conception of the sacred and the primacy of Christianity. Yet, Bataille’s account of the sacred is also set within the background of a critique of capitalism13 understood along with notions of “loss”, “squander”, “waste” and “useless expenditure”. The concept of transgression undoubtedly hints at Bataille’s view of the reduction of human beings to the “order of things”; to an alienated condition caused by the rise of capitalist industries. In this article, my argument is twofold. First, I show that transgression, defined as both the crossing of lines and the staging of the taboo, unveils how the self-­ realization ethos in the technological realm contributes to a process of resisting the inevitability of death. This can be understood through Bataille’s caveat of the “intimacy trap”. What Bataille’s account of transgression reveals is that, in ruling out thinking about death, the self-realization ethos supresses any tension linked with the dialectical movement of transgression and prohibition. Nonetheless, this tension inherent to transgression triggers desire and “libidinal cathexis” in Bataille’s theory, which leads to the second part of my argument. Beneath the rejection of death and the fantasy of the superhuman condition, digital technologies, by eluding the limits and prohibition, shy away from eroticism; it is this notion that, for Bataille,

 By “spirit of our time” I refer to Max Weber, who, in The Protestant Ethic uses the expression “anima” to capture the Geist, the dynamics behind any capitalist forms, predispositions and distinctive devices; this “anima” amount to “a collective psycho-moral disposition”, according to Appadurai (2011). 11  Giddens (1991). 12  Bataille (1979). 13  The Accursed Share (1988a), in which Bataille unfolds his theoretical work on a “general economy”, was intended to include, alongside a first part (The Consumption), two other parts: History of the Eroticism and The Sovereignty. Bataille’s project was to juxtapose the last two parts, although published at a later stage, with The Consumption, and is indicative of the philosopher’s venture to bring theories of the sacred and of religion, as well as of the general economy, under a single broader theoretical umbrella. In this regard, notions such as “excess”, “sacrifice” or “flow of energy” are central, both in Bataille’s theory of economy and of religion. 10


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designates the point of “calling [man] into question” and thus reveals the radical potential of the sacred. As I will conclude, Bataille’s account of eroticism in the sacred speaks against power; it could be envisioned as an emancipative space for the self that may be rekindled, while the latter is more than ever challenged by the ubiquitous presence of digital technologies. In using Bataille’s concept of transgression, key in his theory of the sacred, this article crosses the bridge between the sphere of religious study and of political economy14 and finds ground in the use of a secondary source: French philosopher Bernard Stiegler’s diagnosis of the “liquidation of desire” and the problem of the “externalization of memory” in post-industrialized societies, introduced as part of the philosopher’s new critique of political economy. Gauthier and Martikainen, introduced earlier, stand out from existing bodies of work on the relation between economy and religion such as pessimist neo-Marxist views on how late capitalism led to the decline of forms of beliefs or how the development of contemporary spiritualities are devoid of moral depth and social cohesiveness.15 Contrariwise, the “changes they partially document are best understood […] against the backdrop of wider socio-economic changes catalysed by the spread of consumerism and neoliberal ideology” claim Gauthier and Martikainen.16 To the authors, the centrality of branding and marketing in the neoliberal ideology provides a symbolic framework which shapes identities, in a way that produces nowadays forms of “self-branding” or “branded persona.”17 This “matrix of lifestyles” is “inextricably tied to the development of communication technologies”, claim Gauthier and Martikaine.18 Aligned with this, the present article focuses on the dynamics that lurk behind the ethos of the eschatology of the self, a dominant narrative of self-empowerment, offering a theoretical scrutiny through the use of Bataille’s insights into violent excesses, death and eroticism that account for the concept of transgression.

Transgression and the (In)escapable Human Condition Bataille’s core notion of transgression stands between seemingly contradictory terms. Transgression designates the crossing of the line of what is by law, traditions or customs deemed socially acceptable; yet at the same time transgression must be understood as the respect of these laws without which, as Bataille argues, no societies can thrive. Transgression is bound to prohibition and yet prohibition calls for

 For a discussion on Bataille’s conception of economy, situated between a “general economy” and political economy, see Sørensen’s (2012) article, On a Universal Scale: Economy in Bataille’s General Economy. 15  Gauthier and Martikainen (2013a), Gauthier and Martikainen (2013b), Bell (1976), Carrette and King (2005). 16  Gauthier and Martikainen (2013a), p. 9. 17  Hearn (2008), pp. 163–183. 18  Gauthier and Martikainen (2013a), p. 13. 14

New Technologies’ Promise to the Self and the Becoming of the Sacred: Insights…


transgression. This apparent opposition does not mean that both terms overlap or that they mutually exclude one another (one violates the law then respects the law, and vice versa). Bataille’s dialectical formulation aims to conceptualize the point of contact between two irreconcilable worlds of experiences: the world of things, of work, utility and individual existence, and the more intensified domain of “inner experience”. Reminiscent of Durkheim’s depiction of a state of “collective effervescence”—a psychical excitation to the point of delirium triggered by the religious experience of the sacred—Bataille’s domain of “inner experience” is replete with intense affects. These manifest through orgy, frenzy, anguish, ecstasy or fusion. These emotionally charged intensities and the pursuit of pleasurable excess threatens the course of societies’ history and their organization. In order to prevent the social order from being shattered, the violent enactment and affirmation of these intense experiences must be negated.19 In line with Freud’s notion of coercion in Totem and Taboos and Beyond the Pleasure Principle20 Bataille admits that societies are structured along with socially restricted activity, codes and taboos. Libidinal intensities are no less active and boiling, but the violence that is potentially released is redirected into a higher rational and organized unity. For instance, bravery, courage and patriotism are encoded cultural values that subsume random violence under the higher cause of warfare, steering collective bounds around feelings of national pride. The “negative operation of the taboo” of killing does not supress the emotional intensities; it gives them an acceptable cultural form in accordance with the societies’ given principles. Death—the site of prohibition with murder and contact with corpses—plays a central role within Bataille’s dialectical movement of transgression, since death catalyses at once repulsion and attraction. Bataille recognizes that humanity is defined by its repugnance for death as well as for whatever threatens human beings’ unity, such as loss of control through drunkenness, excretions, filth or eroticism. All that threatens the unity’s perception (e.g. excrements, bodily fluids or a rotting corpse) is instituted as taboo. Yet, as Hegarty notes, “as much as we try to exclude what horrifies us; this exclusion creates the necessity (or desire) to approach what threatens.”21 How can horror at the sight of death be linked to attraction? In the fourth part, Transgression, of the second volume of The Accursed Share, The History of Eroticism, Bataille distinguishes22 between the horror of death in the sense of “the dead whom it is criminal to have contact, and the living, whom it is

 Mitchell, and Winfree (2009), pp. 1–17.  Freud (1918), Freud (1922). 21  Hegarty (2000), p. 61. 22  Later in the text, Bataille suggests the idea that, in spite of a natural repugnance for the dead, a “horrible attraction” for the dead body can be envisioned since it is a projection of our attraction not for the dead body in itself, but for murder. The hypothesis, grounded in Bataille’s suggestion that “mightn’t the prohibition on corpses turn out to be an extension of the prohibition on murder?” (p. 98) contributes to Bataille’s effort to account for the primitive state of frenzy that combines death, eroticism and murder. 19 20


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criminal to kill.”23 Illustrating the latter case by the story of the Phaedra Complex, Bataille proposes his own interpretation of Phaedra’s incitement towards the transgression of the taboo of incest. According to the philosopher, although Phaedra is horrified at Hippolytus’s crime, he recognizes that in fact the crime “secretly raises and fuels Phaedra’s ardour; sexuality’s fragrance of death ensures all its power.”24 The dual movement of repulsion, yet fascination, for death explains the relentless search for proximity with death through transgressive acts such as eroticism, which allows us to transcend the “dullness of existence”, the ordinary experiences of the work world. The reason is that, for Bataille, “fear in the face of horror is at its most creative when approaching death” reminds us Hegarty.25 In other words, if one is to experience the gist of a life lived fully, one shall not rejoice at life, but at death. He alone is happy who, having experienced vertigo to the point of trembling in his bones, and being no longer able to measure the extent of his fall, suddenly discovers the unexpected ability to transform his agony into a joy capable of freezing and transfiguring those who encounter it.26

To preserve the creative side of humanity, we must bring ourselves to a close encounter with what is most repelling and abject, opening up a window onto the sacred. The visceral repulsion, yet at the same time fascination in the face of death, triggers the libidinal investment towards the sacred. It furnishes the creative impulse that allows the subject to overcome, for a fleeting instant, the instrumental world of things, utility and rationality. Bataille’s account of a dialectical dynamic in transgression, namely of the tension between repulsion and fascination for the ultimate taboo (i.e. death), puts into question the neoliberal promise of the technological empowerment of the self; that of a self who competes with an idealized one over boundaries. The Quantified Self movement pursues the goal of instrumenting the body, monitoring its behaviour by providing in the most comprehensive way “self-knowledge through numbers.”27 Online members of this global network discuss their self-measurement efforts. All singular life activities (e.g. sleeping, walking, eating, breathing) are tracked and measured with sensors (e.g. capturing sleep patterns with REM). Apple Watch, a well-known example of these wearable fitness trackers, offers individuals-­consumers an aesthetic, fun, high-performance fitness design, including tracking our heartbeat, breath and calories burned after activity. Such biometric monitors reengineer the body. Encouraged to get slimmer, fitter, healthier, one is drawn to compete with an idealized self with the aim of optimizing and maximizing our performances. In a more extreme case, Evgeny Morozov, admonishing against “solutionism”, recounts

 Bataille (1991), p. 97.  Bataille (1988a), p. 96. 25  Hegarty (2000), p. 57. 26  Bataille (1985). 27  “Self knowledge through numbers” is the slogan of the organization created by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelley in 2007, as they began the project to track all the new tracking technologies to allow users and makers of tracking tools to share their experiences on online platforms. 23 24

New Technologies’ Promise to the Self and the Becoming of the Sacred: Insights…


the story of a Microsoft engineer who endeavoured to record every single detail of his life.28 Morozov notes the development of the engineer’s quest to achieving an empowered self, from generating statistics to “taming inefficiency and unfaithfulness of human memory.”29 With a small camera able to snap a picture every twenty seconds, and attached behind his neck, Gordon Bell aimed to record a lifetime: “I feel much freer about remembering something now. I’ve got this machine, that slave does it. It gives you this cleanliness” said the engineer.30 The metaphor of purity being associated here with memorizing and, by contrast, implicitly, impurity being associated with forgetting speaks to a fantasy of an idealized self who competes with a God-like creature—the impure may also be understood as the sinful. Wearable captors, sensors, monitoring tools, either used by Gordon Bell to counter memory loss or by wellness-themed technological devices do not only respond to a quest for well-being; they are designed to ensure certainty over the precariousness of life, whereby a superhuman condition defies illness until the ultimate loss: death. Collective imaginaries endowing technologies with magical features are not new. Harvey traces the fetishizing tendency of technology back to the bourgeoisie’s fantasy to “annihilate space and time.”31 For Harvey, such a fantasy finds explanation in the bourgeois ethos of class based on the primacy of the “I am”. The class identity of the bourgeoisie conjures up the image of will (symbolized by the “I am”) over the collective. Taking control over space and time beyond normal human capacity is also a way to gain some technological power to enforce a class’s sense of superiority.

 n Empowered Self: Defeating Death and Prohibition—At A What Cost? With these illustrations above, we see that the “eschatology of self-realisation”,32 as embodied in technological devices available for individuals-users, brings the self to the point of rejecting death, yet at the expense of confronting the limits of the human condition, especially those of the human being’s finitude. In Bataille’s setting of society’s enduring structure through prohibition, the concept of transgression confronts the simulacrum of neoliberal technology’s promise of certainty. Commenting on the subversive image in Bataille’s sacred, Noys explains that: “Bataille refuses the idea that we could ever successfully quarantine death. Instead, the image [of death] is an eruption into which we are dragged and where we fall from our position

 Morozov (2013). Morozov uses the term “solutionism” to denounce an ideology that legitimizes over-simplified ways to break down complex problems into neat, fixed, computable solutions through technology. 29  Morozov (2013), p. 270. 30  Morozov (2013), p. 269. 31  Harvey (2013), p. 15. 32  Gauthier and Martikainen (2013b), p. 15. 28


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of security.”33 The human subject is, after all, simply mortal, and the experience of terror before death, as demonstrated by Bataille, challenges the image of an idealized self-enhanced by fitness trackers and devices. Mentioning the Aztecs, who expose death in the sacrifice to everyone’s gaze by staging the dead not inside, but outside on the top of the pyramid, Bataille aims to stress the problem of our societies’ fearful covering up of death. Contrary to the Hegelian perspective34 conceiving architecture as existing in the place of, and emblemizing a victory over death, Bataille underlines the Aztec civilization’s rituals that bind architecture to the visibility of death. Bataille’s insight, here, echoes other philosophers and thinkers who warn about capitalist societies’ tendency to evade thinking about death, by, for example, suppressing the process of mourning.35 In Precarious Life, Judith Butler denounces the invisible censorship at play in the post-9/11 public sphere, which defines “the line that circumscribes what is speakable.”36 It undermines both the power of mourning and the possibility to engage with the other, with whom we are tied through the understanding of our mutual vulnerability. Interestingly, Bataille recounts in the Accursed Share how, for primitive peoples, mourning rites aim to soothe unbearable sentiments in the face of the ineluctable process of putrefaction,37 the phenomenon of decay. Once the moment of the decomposition of the flesh, rendered acceptable by mourning rites, has arrived, “they [the primitives] think that the whitened bones signify an appeasement: these bones are venerable for them; they finally have the look of death’s solemn grandeur.38 In light of Bataille’s depiction of the Aztecs’ rituals of mourning, I suggest that these primitives were able not to cover up death precisely because they could tap into symbolic resources (i.e. the ancestors’ rituals). Thereby, when mourning processes are suppressed, covering up death may turn out to be a necessity. In pushing the boundaries of the human condition ever further towards the “measure of earthly immortality by being cyberized,”39 today’s wearable well-being and fitness devices in line of the Quantified Self

 Noys (2000), p. 27.  According to Hollier (1990) for Hegel “architecture has not even a hint of motion. Its main purpose, as the article ‘Informe’ said, is to provide what exists with a ‘formal coat, a mathematical overcoat’: a form that veils the incompletion that death, in its nakedness, introduces into life.” 35  Castoriadis (1996); In The Rise of Insignificance, Greek philosopher and social theorist Cornelius Castoriadis warns that capitalist societies tend to evade thinking about death by suppressing the process of mourning. However, “working-through freedom is intrinsically linked with the working-through of mortality” (1996, p. 77) asserts Castoriadis, seeing mortality as a prerequisite for autonomy in societies. 36  Butler (2004), pp. xix–xx. 37  Bataille (1988a), p. 96; For Bataille, putrefaction materializes a morally unacceptable feeling for primitive peoples: the humiliation experiences at the very moment when the “visit of death” is thrust upon them. Even worse than the distress of personal annihilation through death is, according to the philosopher, the period of time when the flesh rots (see Bataille (1988a), p. 80). 38  Bataille (1991), p. 80. 39  Bell and Gemmell (2010), p. 8. 33 34

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Movement, cover up death, but also, probably, unbearable feelings associated with the disappearance of mourning processes.40 At an ontological level, aspirations of a neoliberal technological self that envisions itself as beyond the human condition mirror Bataille’s notion of intimacy, a world of no time and no duration, and therefore meaning not subjected to the fear of death. As introduced at the beginning of this article, intimacy is a state close to nature and to the animal condition, a domain of continuity in which human beings live like “water in water”;41 a world of no objectifying relationship.42 In Bataille’s ontology, transgression occurs as the relentless search for a lost intimacy, where no boundaries constrain the subject’s own fulfilment. Yet, Bataille posits that attempts to appropriate and control this intimate depth lead to an impasse. “If self-conscience is essentially the full possession of intimacy, then we must return to the fact that all possession of intimacy ends up in a trap.”43 Intimacy’s ontological raison d’être is to furnish human beings both a goal (“the search for intimacy”), so as to put in motion a flow of energy unleashed by the movement towards transgression, and a limit. Digital technologies encourage the fantasy of “intimacy” through playful activities whereby we can indulge ourselves in a no time, no space comfort world blurring the line between fiction and reality. For instance, technical devices based on augmented reality allow individuals to experience a hyper-reality that pushes the limits of the real to the extent that it merges with the fictional. Staring at an urban landscape through 3D Google glasses is, in some way, an experience which is at once hyperrealist and fictional, where the edge between fiction and reality vanishes. Another immersive experience, virtual reality, allows the user to be “psychically present in a thoroughly self-contained, fully rendered environment, and for the most part interacts with things that do not exist in the outside”, depicts Adam Greenfield in Radical Technologies.44 The technologies’ tour de force is to merge distinctive significations—inside/outside, fiction/reality, visible/invisible—to create an indistinct so-­ called empowering space for the self. In contrast, the “relentless pursuit of the mutual complicity between transgression and taboo”45 re-instantiates the edge between fiction and reality, the visible and the invisible. “The sacred thing exteriorises the intimacy: it makes visible from the outside that which in reality is in the

 Morozov (2013) explains using the term “solutionism” to depict digital makers’ obsession for statistics, algorithms and numbers to “fix” complex problems, by drawing on the domain of architecture and urban planning; and ironically echoes Bataille’s insight on the covering up of death in relation to architecture. 41  Bataille (1992), p. 9. 42  The intrusion of technology into this world of “immediacy or immanence” (Bataille, Theory of Religion, 17), the “birth of the first tool”, sets a precedent through which humanity is conceived as a means to an end. “The tool brings exteriority into the world” (Bataille, Theory of Religion, 27) and marks the dawn of discontinuity. See Tomasi (2008), pp. 1–12. 43  Bataille (1988a), pp. 77–78. 44  Greenfield (2017), p. 65. 45  Hegarty (2003), p. 102. 40


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inside”46 says Bataille; and this occurs through a tension, threatening the “world of things”. As one is seduced by the intimacy trap of navigating in a world without apparent boundaries in the digital realm, however, then, in light of Bataille, there is nothing else to transgress; no need to confront with prohibition, no longer an impulse to break down the object/subject relation that throws human beings on the path towards transgression. In fact, the technological-digital realm eludes the dialectical movement. By the same token, it loosens the tension intrinsically at play between the attraction/repulsion in the face of death. What Bataille’s dialectical movement of transgression teaches us is therefore that the denial of death is not just due to the “loathing of nothingness”. What is avoided is also the very tension between the crossing of the line of the symbolic taboo and prohibition per se. An illustration of the sanitizing of the dialectical tension between transgression and prohibition may be found at the most intimate scale. Smart devices, bandage technology and built-in sensors are designed to help women track, monitor and cope with menstruations. There is no better exemplification of Greenfield’s understanding of these devices as “hinges between the body and the network”47 than such an intertwining between women’s bodies and devices; “cup monitors, connected to a mobile app via Bluetooth, monitor the flow rate, fluid colour and fullness of the cup throughout the menstrual cycle, thus informing the user of how their period is progressing. Data from each cycle is stored to allow the woman to track both when their period begins/ends.”48 Beyond the apparent convenience offered to women to control their cycle, the high degree of detailed metrics provided regarding women’s cycles (e.g. flow rate, fluid colour, volume) raise questions; what is at stake may be the return of a repressed archaic fear of bodily fluids and perceived impurity as a new object of repugnance. In The History of Eroticism Bataille mentions the centrality of menstrual bloods in prohibition amongst primitive peoples.49 Seen as the “terrible”, the “sacred”, Bataille notes that the distancing of the feminine and the terrifying horror of women’s menstruation, as first object of repugnance, faded away over time, but I suggest that the tracking of menstrual cycles might be interpreted as the covering up of whatever threatens the representation and integrity of an idealized self. This echoes the engineer Bell’s obsession with logging his life to eliminate the impurity of his memory. Bataille, however, precisely “categorises phenomena such as death, encounters with corpses, excretions, objects of horrors as things to be embraced, not willingly, but that must be addressed in their horror”50 comments Arppe. Bell’s project to track impurity, and the less explicit attempt at monitoring cycles for the sake of easiness, denote the impossibility of dealing with both fascination and repulsion.

 Bataille (1988a), pp. 77–78.  Greenfield (2017), p. 33. 48  See Accessed 01 Aug 2018. 49  Bataille (1991). 50  Arppe (2009), p. 43. 46 47

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So far the paper has taken us through the suppression of mourning, the challenging of death, and the illusion intimacy as an antidote to this. The following section reflects upon implications of the sanitizing of the tension between transgression and prohibition, by focussing on the problem of the vacuum of—or the undermining of—libidinal energy: a result of the way digitalism probably bypasses the power that lies in the dialectical movement of transgression. In this second part I draw, as a secondary source, on French philosopher Bernard Stiegler’s problem of “the liquidation of desire” (2011).

I ntensification of Desire Through Transgression vs. Liquidation of Desire in the Technological Self Summarizing key points in Bataille’s discussion of transgression, Mitchell & Winfree note: “It is desire,51 therefore, and the intensification of desire, that invests transgression with significance and yields pleasure.”52 And what intensifies desire is precisely the fear of proximity with the prohibited object—ultimately with death— which is the point at which creativity is reached. This has an operative function: to maintain “libidinal cathexis” (i.e. the libidinal investment) towards the sacred object. As the first section has developed, however, be it with the movement of the Quantified Self or the Augmented Reality principle, it has been shown how the tension between transgression and prohibition is undermined by the denial of human mortality and the apparent comfort of intimacy, which subsequently neutralizes fear. Herein, it is suggested that there is no—or less—intensity to be experienced in Bataille’s sense of energy and desire. Contemporary French philosopher Bernard Stiegler takes on the question of the “liquidation of desire”53 as a characteristic of the crisis of hyper-industrialized economies. Although Stiegler does not engage directly with the sacred, his thesis is that the weakening of the libidinal dimension lies at the heart of the individuals’ use of standardized technical cultural objects, and thus the individuals’ meaningful existence more broadly is of interest here. For Stiegler, technical objects designed by creative industries push individual-consumers to comply with a particular form of conscious time, aligned with short-term selling motives. In Stiegler’s approach, cultural technical objects are also “temporal objects”; that is, objects that exist only for as long as that temporal interlude passes (e.g. a film or a programme), “where the attention of the viewer is also vital to the very existence of the object,”54

 Bataille is influenced by Kojève’s (1969) “anthropogenic desire” and phenomenological existentialist reading of Hegel’s dialectic. Kojève stresses how the existential forces of desire, and the lack of struggle for recognition, instantiate the self as subject. Yet Bataille is also loyal to Freudian concepts of “repression”, “transference”, “displacement” and “sublimation” in positing the dual movement in transgression, the suspension of the taboo as displacement that opens up to new gratification (i.e. pleasure and desire). 52  Mitchell and Winfree (2009), p. 84 53  Stiegler (2011), pp. 52–61. 54  Stiegler (2011), p. 53. 51


C. Righi ­summarizes Rossouw. These objects do not only capture the individual’s attention,55 they disrupt fundamental human needs, namely the “individuation” process by which the individual becomes a “singular being”. Individuation, a process that engages both the psychic and the collective, was already theorized by French philosopher Gilbert Simondon.56 Notably, Stiegler draws on Simondon’s concept of a “pre-individual fund” which he notes as also being similar to Heidegger’s “already-there of historiality” in Being and Time.57 Pre-­individuality is made up of knowledge, traditions and experiences accumulated though the group’s history, and continuously reactivated through interaction between personal and collective memories. “To construct means to individuate what is already there as pre-­ individual potential” asserts Stiegler.58 Central in the individuation process is the phenomenon of memory, which Stiegler considers intrinsically linked with the development of technical objects. Therefore, Stiegler also draws extensively on Husserl’s distinction between primary retention (the perception of the “now” of a musical melody) and secondary retention (the recollection of the past melody through imagination).59 And Stiegler suggests that with the advent of technologies of reproduction, such as the monograph, a tertiary retention is possible which offers a support for the “prosthetic exteriorization of memory.”60

The externalization of human memory becomes problematic when the narrowed temporality along which technological cultural objects are designed takes over the constant back and forth between the psychic and the collective as an activity which instantiates the “singular being” in the individuation process. The interference, or coincidence, between the temporal “flux61 of the cultural objects (e.g. TV programmes) and “the time flow of the conscience of which they are the objects” results in the subjugation of the individual’s conscious and unconscious time. In listening to music on Spotify or connecting on YouTube, there is, according to Stiegler, no longer an opportunity for the self to “select” between different forms of memories and, importantly, to imagine. The example of Gordon Bell’s project to record and upload every single life moment illustrates Stiegler’s notion of “prosthetic exteriorization of memory”: the engineer’s belief that a camera placed behind his neck will yield “the freedom to memorize less and think creatively more” is misleading.62 Following Stiegler, Bell’s memory-prosthesis object, in fact, deprives the self of a libidinal energy that accompanies the imaginative investment in memory selection, and which is vital for the formation of a “primary narcissism”, another term to

 Sadin (2015).  Simondon (1992), pp. 297–319. 57  Stiegler (2009), p. 48. 58  Stiegler (2009), p. 48. 59  Husserl (1991). 60  Stiegler engages with the work of French palaeontologist André Leroi-Gourhan to theorize the human animal as primarily technical; the structure of the human body and brain is shaped by his technical milieu. Likely, for Stiegler what constitutes the phenomenon of hominization is the exteriorization of memory through the technical object, understood as “memory-object”. Technics are forms of the materialization of experience; they are the “spatialization of the time of consciousness beyond consciousness”. 61  Stiegler uses Husserl’s definition of the term “flux”, which means the time of the object’s passing, such as a melody, film or radio broadcast. 62  Bell and Gemmell (2010), p. 87. 55 56

New Technologies’ Promise to the Self and the Becoming of the Sacred: Insights…


d­ esignate desire. As Stiegler puts it: “The industrial temporal objects replace collective imaginaries and individual stories knotted together in a collective and individual process of individuation with mass standards, which tends to shrink the singularity of individual practices and their exceptional characters.” Carrying on, Stiegler admonishes: There is no desire for banality. […] I can only desire the singularity of something to the extent which this mirrors the singularity that I am, about which I am still ignorant and which this thing reveals to me.63

Stiegler’s idea of desire as being intrinsic to the process of becoming a “singular being” in my view mirrors Bataille’s venture to establish the “libidinal cathexis” as a propelling force in transgression. In both approaches, a tensional process precedes a libidinal engagement, setting up the “singular being” for Stiegler, and the subject’s experience of touching upon the sacred for Bataille. In drawing on individuation theory, Stiegler is influenced by Simondon’s foundational idea of the conflicting structure of “pre-individual fund”. In his review of Gilbert Simondon’s The Physio-­ Biological Genesis of the Individual,64 Gilles Deleuze stresses the gist of pre-­ individuality as a state of asymmetry between “disparate scales of reality”, or “heterogeneous orders” exist in the system of the fund as “potential energy, as a difference of potential distributed within certain limits.”65 Importantly, for Deleuze, such “difference”, from which derives the “potential energy”, brings about “the process of emergence or the tension (also called signification).”66 Giving voice to Simondon’s own words, Deleuze quotes that a difference “emerges when a process of individuation reveals the dimension through which two disparate realities together become a system” or “that by which the incompatibility within the unresolved system becomes an organising dimension in its resolution.”67 Why are Deleuze and Simondon’s comments on the “pre-individual fund” important for us? Because individuation is above all a compelling process, which calls for a “resolution” out of the “tension and dynamic phase-shift.”68 More than a “resolution”, as Stiegler argues in The Theatre for Individuation, it is a decision; “this decision of reading consisted in positing the necessity of situating, as a transductive and thus also individuating element.”69 Going back to Stiegler’s critique, I propose that: as technical “temporal objects” become hyper-synchronized with the individual’s time of consciousness, what they disrupt is the compelling tension constitutive of individuation. Even though a “pre-individual being, is perfectly provisioned with singularities that correspond to the existence and distribution of

 Stiegler (2011), p. 58.  My translation. The original French title is: Gilbert Simondon’s L’individu et sa genèse physicobiologique (1966). The original French text is: L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique. 65  Deleuze (2001), p. 44. 66  Deleuze (2001), p. 44. 67  Simondon (1992), pp. 310–311. 68  Stiegler (2009), p. 48. 69  Stiegler (2009), p. 48. 63 64


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potentials”,70 the “process of emergence” of a “singular being” out of individuation is nonetheless at risk. Personalized devices that adjust to each individual’s specific needs may bring individuals to fantasize about the freedom to set themselves free from the constraints of remembering or selecting between memories. By quantifying, storing information, wearable trackers take charge of micro-instants of decisions; meant to make life easier, these smart objects, in fact, interfere with complex dynamics. Morozov is right when he underlines that, “digital networks, app trackers or life-logs mark the zone of our spiritual pasture and allow our individuality to emerge.”71 Yet the detailed account of Simondon’s individuation, expanded by Stiegler, highlights what is at stake: the need for a tensional force in the process of the construction of the “singular being”, which puts in motion a libidinal energy. This brings us back to this article’s argument regarding the sanitizing of the tension in the digital realm. Namely, that it is this tension that makes up the gist of Bataille’s concept of transgression—bringing forth a libidinal response to the fear of approaching prohibition, and an intensification of desire by touching upon experiences of anguish and proximity with taboo.

Fun and Sexy Data: Are We Afraid of Eroticism? Technical cultural objects undermine the libidinal energy, as I have presented in the previous section by drawing on Bernard Stiegler’s diagnosis of a “liquidation of desire.”72 Nonetheless these objects have never been so widely hailed as smart, fun and sexy. In this last section, I argue that behind a sexualization of individual users’ relationships to technological objects lurks a fear of eroticism insofar as Bataille ascribes to the notion a radical potential for transgression. In Bataille’s endeavour to redeem the self from being reified by means of rationalization and utility, eroticism offers a powerful means to reconnect with—not human nature—but a point of “intensity”, reminiscent of the “inner experience”. How is this possible? Eroticism is distinct from a definition of sexuality that reduces sexual activity to its mere reproductive function. Although eroticism necessitates the sexual attraction that animals display, it supersedes the animal nature, since it is “characterised by a reserve unknown in animals. In truth, the feeling of embarrassment in regard to sexual activity recalls, in one sense at least, the feeling of embarrassment in regard to death and the dead” asserts Bataille in The Tears of Eros.73 In the erotic act, humans develop an awareness of sex as something other than a natural function. The lovers depicted in The Accursed Share’s second volume, The History of Eroticism, touch upon the limit of “impossibility”, the “feeling of sin” and the experience of

 Deleuze (2001), p. 44.  Morozov (2013), p. 346. 72  Stiegler (2011). 73  Bataille (1989), pp. 32–33. 70 71

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anguish before death, which exceeding pleasures have thrust upon them. Later on, Bataille describes the “suffocating sexual anguish” and the “violent and uncontrolled explosions” associated with eroticism; be they stifled by the set of laws in marriage, or unleashed in the ritual orgy. Like Bataille’s dual movement of transgression, there are “two movements in eroticism. One is in harmony with nature; the other questions it. We can’t do away with either. Horror and attraction intermingle. Innocence and the explosion both serve play74 posits Bataille in Guilty.75 The divide between eroticism and sexuality in Bataille’s aforementioned account challenges the current trend that alludes to sex(iness) in the digital technological realm. In a prescient sentence of To Save Everything Click Here, Morozov ironically says that: “The future belongs to data-sexual.”76 A new kind of man, endowed with intellectual curiosity and high cognitive ability for whatever is concerned with data, has become the attractive pole of libidinal energies, not so long ago turned towards the urban, intellectual male, obsessive with grooming and personal appearance: the metrosexual.77 Another contemplator of the impact of new technologies on societies’ subjects posits that data has become the object of sexual libidinous investment as such. “Data are not just being absolutized—they are becoming sexualised and fetishised. […] Dataism is displaying libidinous—indeed, pornographic—traits” bemoans Byung-Chul Han.78 The philosopher’s admonition echoes John Doyle’s (2012) newspaper article on the regressive tendencies of a narcissistic culture displayed on social media (Facebook, Pinterest) and of digital communication.79 For the journalist, the hypersexualized culture of our societies is the by-product of a “pornography of narcissism” deployed through the consumption of digital technology. The latter forces individual consumers to live no less than a return to tribalism: “back to the cave” and to the primitive crudeness of pornography. “After every advance in communication technology comes pornography. This pattern is repeated. As soon as cavemen drew, they drew about sex. […] What was submerged, hidden or in the shadows suddenly emerges into the light. Crudeness comes back”, asserts John Doyle.80 Yet, the sexualization of our engagement with digitalism is not at first fully evident; it is disguised by the sense of lightness, fun, smartness and sexiness attached to the use of digital objects. Fun originates in the hacker culture, where humour associated with the smart intellect of the clever trick, reminiscent of the mathematical genius, is highly valued. Researchers and the digital media industry’s communities have also purposefully carved out the notion of fun in order to conceptualize

 “Play” in Bataille’s original French text is “mettre en jeu”, which literally means to put one’s self in play. “Play” shall be understood in the context of the example of the lovers, whose encounter is, for Bataille, coincidence, gamble and risk rather than calculation. 75  Bataille (1988), p. 109. 76  Morozov (2013), p. 227. 77  Morozov (2013), p. 226. 78  Byung-Chul (2017), p. 59. 79  Doyle (2012). 80  Doyle (2012). 74


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attractive interface designs for individuals-users.81 Likely, The International Organization for Standardization states that the technological user’s experience shall be fun, enjoyable and pleasurable. In The Semantics of Fun, Blythe and Hassenzahl identify fun as aligned with distraction. “Triviality, repetition, [and] spectacle” abound in fun, which “seems to stand for the fleeting enjoyment and volatile experiential aspects.”82 Fun is also allied with pleasure and drive83 in a more complex and intermingled way, especially with the recent trend of the gaming movement.84 The latter heightens attention and combines intense engagement and persuasiveness. In Gamification by Design, Zichermann and Cunningham point out the interrelationship between the playful experience of fun in gaming and that in sex and drive. They write: “Games marry the desire-drive of sex with the predictability of duress—except without force, and when successful, driven entirely by enjoyment.”85 The concept of fun in the technological industry adds “superficial pleasantness”. The sexiness ascribed to the overall experience with technical objects, through fun, is precisely what the philosopher Byung-Chul Han debunks when he compares the relationship between the “dataist” and the digital realm in terms of the sexual reproductive function of “mating”. What the philosopher means is that sex, as “reproductive sex”, is predicated on fun, sexiness and smartness, which we read as sexy, but which is actually reduced to the animal instinctual function, interestingly akin to Bataille’s notion of “reproductive sex”. Fun could, nonetheless, display a dark side of smartness and play, asserts Olga Goriunova in Fun and Software, reminding us that fun has its roots in the laughter of Nietzsche’s Gay Science. “Tragic fun” could provide us with the condition to “stare at the limit of the possible.”86 It would mirror Bataille’s view of erotic activity, “capable of arousing irony […] into laughter.”87 In the same way, although Doyle warns against the regressive tendency of the “pornography of narcissism”88 as we engage with social media and apps, pornography could be endowed with a more subversive role. The etymology of pornography indeed reveals the transgressive experience associated with the term. From the Greek pornographos, pornography

 For instance, researchers have designed models to measure different arrays of affects and emotions (love vs. hate) in users’ interaction with the digital objects. 82  Blythe and Hassenzahl (2003), p. 67. 83  Introduced by Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, drive, although translated by Strachey as Trieb, distinguishes itself from instinct. Lacan (1990) suggests that Trieb shall be understood as “drift”. Indeed, “Drive is not of the order of hunger or thirst, appearing on the basis of the natural rhythms of the body. Drive emerges as a constant force that expresses itself as a continual demand for satisfaction” (Dravers 2011, p.  123). In Suffocated Desire (2011) which I quoted earlier, Bernard Stiegler uses the Freudian term “drive” as opposed to desire to criticize the way consumerism, brands and digital technologies appeal to individuals’ compulsion to buy and consume at the expense of more highly symbolic and culturally oriented activities. 84  Ferrara (2012). 85  Zichermann and Cunningham (2011), p. 41. 86  Goriunova (2014), p. 9 87  Bataille (1989), p. 66. 88  Doyle (2012). 81

New Technologies’ Promise to the Self and the Becoming of the Sacred: Insights…


designates the “ancient obscene painting, especially in temples of Bacchus”. Yet also, in 1873, the Medical Archives proposed porniatria for the expression “social evil hospital”. Finally, in an ancient context, porniatria was paired with rhypography, “genre painting of low, sordid or unsuitable subjects”, including “obscene pictures”. The etymology of pornography echoes Bataille’s insight of the obscene, the naked, even the prostitute—notwithstanding that Bataille did not write on pornography per se—all these are figures that draw the erotic path towards the sacred. For Bataille, the prostitute,89 endowed with luxury and lust, forms a figure whose meaning is that of loss, since the prostitute “exerts a dangerous fascination, that prefigures death and finally attracts more and more.”90 The idea of loss, key in the philosopher’s conception of eroticism, is present in nudity and nakedness, which also push the self beyond the confines of the self, through obscenity. “Stripping naked is the decisive action. […] Bodies open out a state of continuity through secret channels that give us a feeling of obscenity. The term obscenity signifies that which disrupts the physical state associated with self-possession” describes Bataille in Eroticism.91 How does such a “brutally erotic character” entailed in Bataille’s depiction of the obscene, the naked, the prostitute, or the intense enactment of love, debunk a digital realm that predicates sexiness on fun? Bataille’s eroticism is a matter of “sorcery” or “diabolical play” since it threatens “the regulated social order basic to our discontinuous mode of existence as defined and separate individuals”. It requires the sacrifice—albeit a temporary one—of our relationship to objects from the economic world. When engaging in eroticism, “the lover-become-thing into the moral and economic ‘world of things’ ceases to be a distinct economic object, an object to which a value itself is attributed. […] It must be destroyed as an object to return to its ‘meaningless intimacy,’”92 explains Gemerchak. Bataille’s commentator carries on: “The path to erotic intimacy requires a temporary sacrifice of our ties to economic goods, or particular pleasures altogether, even pleasure itself, as a prerequisite for the search for nothing but Desire itself.”93

Although digital movements, such as the gaming movement, bring sexiness into play within the technical object, they locate sex and pornography far away from their subversive potential. They bring sexiness into play in the individual-user experience of the technical devices, only to the point that any reference to the sexual dimension complies with calculation, productivity measures and utility through playful-fun engagement with technical devices. The digital technological realm brings pleasurable experiences muddled with desire (i.e. gaming experiences); what

 In the History of Eroticism (1991) the philosopher’s insight on the figure of the prostitute follows considerations on frenzy and the ritual orgy as multiple embodiments of eroticism relegated by Christianity to the side of the impure (i.e. the profane) and a definitive object of reprobation, such as paganism’s celebration of the Sabbath, “like an essence of evil” (Bataille 1991, p. 133). 90  Bataille (1988a), p. 133. 91  Bataille (1987), p. 18. 92  Gemerchak (2003), p. 201. 93  Gemerchak (2003), p. 201 89


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is searched for is not desire, but the “desiring-fun.”94 I argue that the “liquidation of libidinal energy”95—as I have explored in the previous section—is counterbalanced by the simulacra of pleasure and fun, that plays out as sexiness, whilst stripping off the obscene, erotic and transgressive element from the sexual. It covers up a fear of eroticism, since the latter, imbued with danger, “calls [man’s] being into question”,96 and thus reveals its radical potential and emancipative dimension.97

Conclusion In the first part of my argument, I have shown that technologies’ promise of certainty invites the self to resist death, and how this is revealed through Bataille’s view of the intimacy “trap”: the site of an all-powerful subject, yet denying individuality and singularity to the subject. I have highlighted how eroticism is marginalized, although sexuality is brought into play with an aesthetic of fun and smartness in the digital realm. As this article has presented, Bataille works at the edge of states of death, desire and sex, bringing an almost “fundamental coincidence of filthy nature and desire, death and life.”98 Yet, Bataille succeeds in bringing together intense and seemingly irreconcilable states (life vs. death), since the transgressive movement towards the sacred, the search for a “lost intimacy” which eroticism embodies, is relentlessly worked out against the background of prohibition. The fruitful potential of Bataille’s movement of transgression is to work out the way human beings confront boundaries, taboos and prohibitions: it seems that the more enduring these boundaries are, the more a libidinal flow of energy comes into play within the “co-­ dependence between taboo and transgression.”99 Meanwhile, prohibition should not be confused with “sameness” (i.e. the reproduction of the same). When the dialectical movement of transgression is only concerned with prohibition, it “is necessarily a paralysed place without substance” clarifies Gauthier.100 Furthering my scrutiny of the way the digital technological realm both refers to sex(iness) and strips the

 Goriunova (2014).  Stiegler (2011). 96  Bataille (1987), p. 29. 97  Bataille’s sacred entails an emancipative feature, which brought Caillois (1950) to depict a “radical sacred” in Bataille’s theory. Bataille’s sacred emancipative dimension interestingly echoes Castoriadis’ concept of radical imagination. Grounded in the work of the psyche that generates a “spontaneous flux of representations, affects and desires” (Castoriadis 1987, p.  26) the radical imagination is the catalyst by which individuals-subjects break away from the deterministic logic of the social order. In doing so, Castoriadis envisions the shattering process of calling into question the power of the “other” (e.g. kings, chiefs, elites) as fundamental in the establishment of autonomous societies. 98  Gemerchak (2003), p. 186 99  Roberts-Hughes (2017), pp. 157–168. 100  Gauthier (2009), p. 142. 94 95

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r­ elationship to sexuality down to its obscene-subversive elements—characteristic of eroticism as transgression in Bataille’s theory of the sacred—I propose that prohibition is not so much eluded as replaced by “sameness”. What remains is the fulfilment of the procedural rules.101 It is also possible to understand “sameness” as a “reproductive function”, precisely what Byung-Chul Han’s Psychopolitics debunks: “The digitus is starting to play the part of the phallus.”102 Without the artifice of sexiness, fun and play, what remains is the phallus; that is, the representation of power for the sake of power. Qualitative and ethnographic studies encompassed in Gauthier and Martikainen’s twin books Religion in Consumer Society and Religion in the Neoliberal Age103 in regions as diverse as the United States, Germany or Ireland have explored new trends such as “entrepreneurial spirituality”, “ecumenical alterglobalism” within Christianity or the “re-branding” of Judaism. For Becci these studies “raise critical questions about the recent practical and discursive developments in the field of religion against the background of the cultural success of economic thinking.”104 Yet, unfolding Bataille’s concept of transgression to uncover dynamics into play underlines a timely need to complement this empirical body of work on the mutations of the sacred explored in various areas with a reflection upon the way imaginaries that surround movements (e.g. Quantified Self Movement or Augmented Reality principle) and inform individuals’ lived experiences are also deeply intertwined with issues of power.

References Appadurai, Arjun. 2011. The ghost in the financial machine. Public Culture 23 (3): 517–539. Arppe, Tiina. 2009. Sacred violence: Girard, bataille and the vicissitudes of human desire. Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory 10 (2): 31–58. Bataille, Georges. 1979. The story of the eye. London: Penguin. ———. 1985. The practice of joy before death. In Visions of excess, selected writings, 1927–1939. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ———. 1987. Eroticism. London: Marion Boyars. ———. 1988. Guilty. Venice, CA: Lapis Press. ———. 1988a. The Accursed Share. Vol. I. New York: Zone Books. ———. 1989. The tears of eros. San Francisco: City Lights Books. ———. 1991. The accursed share, vol. II. The history of eroticism, and III sovereignty. New York: Zone Books. ———. 1992. Theory of Religion. New York: Zone Books. Becci, Irene. 2015. Religion in the neoliberal age: Political economy and modes of governance. Journal of Contemporary Religion 30 (1): 153–155. Bell, Daniel. 1976. The cultural contradictions of capitalism. New York: Basic Books.

 Graeber (2015).  Graeber (2015), p. 60. 103  Gauthier and Martikainen (2013b), Gauthier and Martikainen (2013a). 104  Becci (2015), p. 153. 101 102


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Bell, Gordon, and Jim Gemmell. 2010. Your life, uploaded: The digital way to better memory, health, and productivity. Springfield, VA: Penguin. Butler, Judith. 2004. Precarious life: The powers of mourning and violence. New York: Verso. Byung-Chul, Han. 2017. Psychopolitics. Neoliberalism and new technologies of power. London: Verso. Caillois, Roger. 1950. L’Homme et le Sacré. Paris: Gallimard. Carrette, Jeremy, and Richard King. 2005. Selling spirituality: The silent takeover of religion. Abingdon: Routledge. Castoriadis, Cornelius. 1987. The Imaginary Institution of Society. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press. ———. 1996. La Montée de l’Insignifiance, IV, Les Carrefours du Labyrinthe. Paris: Seuil. Deane-Drumond, C., S.  Bergmann, and B.  Szerszynski. 2015. Technofutures, nature and the sacred. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate. Deleuze, Gilles. 2001. Review of Gilbert Simondon’s L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique (1966). Pli 12: 43–49. Dravers, Philip. 2011. The drive as a fundamental concept of psychoanalysis. In Psychoanalytical notebooks: Issue 23, our orientation, ed. Natalie Wulfing, 117–149. London, UK: London Society of the New Lacanian School. Ferrara, John. 2012. Playful design – creating game experiences in everyday interfaces. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media. Fletcher, Horace. 1913. What it is, or how i became young at sixty. New York: Frederick A. Stokes. Freud, Sigmund. 1918. Totem and taboo. New York: Moffat, Yard & Co. ———. 1922. Beyond the pleasure principle. London/Vienna: International Psycho-Analytical. Gauchet, Marcel. 1997. The disenchantment of the world: A political history of religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Gauthier, François. 2009. Bataille, Heritier de Mauss: la radicalisation de l’énergétique du sacré. In Georges Bataille, Interdisciplinaire: Autour de la Somme athéologique, ed. Martin Cloutier and François Nault. Montréal: Les éditions Tryptique. Gauthier, François, and Tuomas Martikainen. 2013a. Religion in the neoliberal age: Political economy and modes of governance. Farnham, UK: Ashgate. ———. 2013b. Religion in consumer society. Brands, consumers and markets. Farnham, UK: Ashgate. Gemerchak, Christopher M. 2003. The sunday of the negative. Reading Bataille, reading Hegel. New York: SUNY. Giddens, Anthony. 1991. Modernity and self identity: Self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge: Polity Press. Goriunova, Olga. 2014. Fun and software. Exploring pleasure, paradox and pain in computing. London: Bloomsbury. Graeber, David. 2015. The utopia of rules: On technology, stupidity, and the joys of bureaucracy. New York: Melville House Books. Greenfield, Adam. 2017. Radical technologies. The design of everyday life. London: Verso. Harvey, David. 2013. The fetish of technology: Causes and consequences. Macalester International 13 (7): 3–30. Hearn, Alison. 2008. Meat, mask, burden’: Probing the contour of the branded ‘self’. Journal of Consumer Culture 8 (2): 163–183. Hegarty, Paul. 2000. Georges bataille: Core cultural theorist. London: Sage Publications. ———. 2003. Undelivered: The apace/time of the sacred in Bataille and Benjamin. Economy and Society 32 (1): 101–118. Husserl, Edmund. 1991. On the phenomenology of the consciousness of internal time (1893–1917). Vol. IV. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. John, D. 2012. Digital technology and the pornography of narcissism. The Globe and Mail, 23 February. Kojève, Alexandre. 1969. Introduction to the reading of Hegel. New York: Basics Books. Kull, Ann. 2006. Mutations of nature, technology, and the western sacred. Zygon 41 (4): 785–792.

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Lacan, Jacques. 1990. Television. London: Norton. Mark, Blythe, and Hassenzahl Marc. 2003. The semantics of fun: Differentiating enjoyable experiences. In Funology. Human-computer interaction series, ed. M.A.  Blythe, K.  Overbeeke, A.F. Monk, and P.C. Wright, vol. 3. Dordrecht.: Springer. Mitchell, A.J., and J.K.  Winfree. 2009. Editor’s introduction. In The obsessions of Georges Bataille: Community and communication, ed. A.J. Mitchell and J.K. Winfree, 1–17. New York: State University of New York Press. Morozov, Evgeny. 2013. To save everything, click here: The folly of technological solutionism. London: Allen Lane. Noys, Benjamin. 2000. Georges Bataille: A critical introduction. London: Pluto Press. Roberts-Hughes, Rebecca. 2017. Transgression and conservation: Rereading Georges Bataille. Journal for Cultural Research 21 (2): 157–168. Sadin, Eric. 2015. La vie algorithmique: Critique de la raison numérique. Paris: Éditions l’Èchapée. Simondon, Gilbert. 1992. The genesis of the individual. In Incorporations, ed. Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter, 297–319. New York: Zone Books. Sørensen, Asger. 2012. On a universal scale: Economy in Bataille’s general economy. Philosophy and Social Criticism 38 (2): 169–197. Stiegler, Bernard. 2009. The theater of individuation: Phase-shift and resolution in Simondon and Heidegger. Parrhesia 7: 46–57. ———. 2011. Suffocated desire, or how the cultural industry destroys the individual: Contribution to a theory of mass consumption. Parrhesia 13: 52–61. Szerszynski, Bronislaw. 2005. Nature, technology and the sacred. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell. Tomasi, Alessandro. 2008. The role of intimacy in the Evolution of Technology. Journal of Evolution and Technology 17 (1): 1–12. Zichermann, Gabe, and Christopher Cunningham. 2011. Gamification by design: Implementing game mechanics in web and mobile apps. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.

Faith and Professionalism in Humanitarian Encounters in Post-Earthquake Haiti Andrea Steinke

Abstract  Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in post-earthquake Haiti, this paper interrogates the notions of faith and professionalism in the work of humanitarian organizations intervening in a complex humanitarian crisis. It follows the narratives and actions of employees and beneficiaries of two faith-based organizations (FBOs)—one an internationally active humanitarian FBO that exerts a form of strategic secularism, the other a locally rooted exclusively Haitian organization with an outright religious vocation—and seeks to discern the different ways in which faith and professionalism shaped, motivated and challenged the two organizations, their employees and their beneficiaries. The distributive practice of the organizations is the central category of analysis. It is within this action that discourse meets practice and possible frictions between the two spheres become apparent. Humanitarians active in post-disaster Haiti can be interpreted as mediants that produce materialities (Appadurai, Publ Culture 27:221–237, 2015) with transcendental underpinnings, may they appear in the form of religious faith or in more abstract notions of humanity and moral imperatives dictated by contemporary humanitarianism. The paper intends to deconstruct binary readings of faith and professionalism as mutually exclusive categories as well as dismantle the often (neo-)colonial notions of professionalism applied in humanitarian contexts. On 12 January 2010, Haiti was hit by a magnitude 7 earthquake. The event that came to be known as Douz Janvye in Haitian narration was one of the deadliest disasters in recent history. It took between 222,000 and 316,000 lives and displaced 1.5 million people.1 Subsequently, the earthquake triggered one of the largest

1  The exact death toll is a matter of dispute. Whereas the Haitian government stated the loss of 316,000 lives, others cite different numbers. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), 222,570 people died. Retrieved 24 May, 2016, from

A. Steinke (*) Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 J. Hensold et al. (eds.), Religion in Motion,



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humanitarian interventions ever in the history of global humanitarian assistance including the “largest single-country response in the history of the Red Cross/Red Crescent”.2 In light of that fact it is unsurprising that Haiti has one of the highest densities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the globe, which accounts for one of the numerous threadbare bynames the country has been given: the “Republic of NGOs”. The exact number of these organizations in the country can only be approximated as most are not registered with the Haitian state. However, estimations targeted as many as 20,000 NGOs operating in post-earthquake Haiti.3 Many among the NGOs that operate in Haiti are so-called faith-based organizations (FBOs), meaning they have a religious background and their humanitarian engagement is often motivated by religious directives and sentiments. These organizations include global players such as Caritas, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, Islamic Relief, the Salvation Army as well as smaller organizations, church partnerships and base organizations. A faith-based organization is defined as “any organization that derives inspiration and guidance for its activities from the teachings and principles of faith or from a particular interpretation or school of thought within faith”.4 These organizations are not only active in target regions of development and humanitarian assistance, but contribute to public services in countries all over the world, first and foremost in the domains of nursing, care, shelter and housing. In 2016 for example, Christian faith-based organizations represented the majority—six out of ten—in the executive board of VENRO, the umbrella organization of development and humanitarian non-governmental organizations in Germany. In other parts of the world, faith-based groups advocate for human rights, most notably the recognition of migrants’ rights in the border zones of the U.S. and the European Union. FBOs, like other aid organizations, make up part of the “aid complex”.5 This is a complex web of institutions, individuals, organizations and regulations that constitute the contemporary body of humanitarian aid and disaster response. Within these figurations in Haiti we find NGOs, but also national governments, like the US, Haiti and Brazil, intergovernmental organizations like DG ECHO or IOM, private contractors, military organizations, private and institutional donors, supra-national consortia and their agreements and last but not least the subjects of the intervention themselves, the beneficiaries. All of these entities influence the course of a disaster and the success or failure of its subsequent interventions. Often, they have conflicting interests. Their spheres of influence differ in extent. All of them are exposed to, thrive in or even set the rules in a competitive system of capitalist accumulation. There are NGOs whose annual income is comparable to the GDP of some of the

 Lundahl (2013), p. 193.  Ramachandran and Walz (2012). 4  Clarke and Jennings (2008), p. 6. 5  Steinke (2017). 2 3

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countries they operate in.6 World Vision International’s annual income for example is close to US $3 billion. Hopgood and Vinjamuri argue that the organization’s success is precisely “because of, not despite, its religious credentials”.7 Despite their non-profit nature, many non-governmental organizations have to operate as if they were in fact profit-oriented. The competitive market of aid assistance is not exclusively driven by the moral imperatives of humanitarianism, as analysed by Didier Fassin,8 but is also exposed to neoliberal regulations and standardized rules that Erica Bornstein9 captured in the “dense professional world” of aid and NGOs in her studies and that Mark Schuller scrutinized for the case of Haiti as the “humanitarian aftershocks”10 to the disaster. For the specific practices of intervention that means that they are not always solely needs-based but also donor-­ driven and thus subjected to logics beyond religious directives and humanitarian compassion. Professionalization is one strategy to react to the growing demands and complexities within the humanitarian sector. Two of the faith-based organizations active in the reconstruction of the housing sector of Haiti will be at the centre of this article. The distribution of benefits is the primary raison d’être of aid organizations. The logics and mechanisms behind the distribution of houses are analysed as crucial to the entanglements between faith and professionalism in faith-based organizations. As the earthquake destroyed major parts of the building structure of the affected communities, the reconstruction of houses was among the most urgent tasks in the post-earthquake rehabilitation. Both organizations distributed various kinds of materialities, like other forms of shelter, medical supplies, sanitation kits as well as non-material benefits, like knowledge diffused during educational seminars and employment, like permanent positions or temporary cash-for-work programmes. It is not only the immediate recipients of aid that benefit from the organizations, but also those employed by them. This holds true for national as well as expatriate staff—even though there is an immense gap in income and privilege between the two groups. The global flow of funds and donations allowed the team of the relevant organizations to expand considerably. For other FBOs, like the Salvation Army for example, spiritual relief also accounts for a distributed benefit. FBOs can provide a network of security, of an ontological and social kind. This article will pay particular attention to secularization and sanctification as the core dynamics shaping contemporary humanitarian assistance.11 Whereas secularization is codified “in the growing role of states and commercial enterprises, the centrality of fundraising, encroachment of earthly matters such as governance, processes of bureaucratization and professionalization, and the kinds of evidence that

 Karajkov (2007).  Hopgood and Vinjamuri (2012), p. 37. 8  Fassin (2012). 9  Bornstein (2003). 10  Schuller (2016). 11  Barnett (2012). 6 7


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are required to demonstrate effectiveness”, sanctification is “evident in the insistence on a space free of politics, and in the calling of a humanitarian ethic that acts first and asks questions later, insists that motives must be innocent and altruistic, and guards against a world in which interests and instruments trump values and ethics”.12 Secularization and sanctification are also mutually dependent, multilayered as well as multidimensional processes and strategies that shape the face of contemporary humanitarian encounters. Depending on the specific arena, organizations may also shift between the two ends. Humanitarian organizations maintain and draw on the boundaries of the religious and the secular to distinguish themselves from each other, to strengthen their own identity and to create niches and diversity in a competitive market of humanitarian assistance. Faith in the context of this article is framed in terms of the clerical background of the organizations as such, as the religious faith embodied in the people involved in the humanitarian encounter, staff and beneficiaries of the organizations alike, as well as their conceptions of humanity and their overall motivation to get involved with the suffering of others. Professionalism in humanitarian contexts has a set of meanings. First of all, it refers to the necessary competencies and skills incorporated by the individual humanitarian. Secondly it implies that the humanitarian organization holds itself but also is being held accountable to their beneficiaries, donors and also employees. Thirdly, professionalism is coined through the set of codes, standards and principles arranged in and through key humanitarian actors. The level of professionalism is often measured through the adherence to those principles, most notably humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. They are recorded in the 1994 “Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-­ Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Disaster Relief”. This voluntary and self-­ enforced code of conduct (CoC) in humanitarian conduct is the vindicator of the humanitarian principles. The initiative to formulate the code started in 1991, as a reaction to the increasing number and complexities of intervention contexts and the simultaneously growing prominence of the humanitarian organizations that intervened.13 It was within the French Red Cross that the CoC was initiated.14 The CoC meant to guard the “standards of behavior”15 of the signatories. For many international organizations operating within the aid complex it serves as a frame of reference to this day. Within the context of this research a wider definition of professionalism is employed. Other scholars, too, have argued for expanding the traditional conception of professionalism from competencies and adequate training to familiarity with local contexts and language, and even pastoral skills.16

 Barnett and Stein (2015), p. 8.  Walker (2005), pp. 323–336. 14  Hilhorst (2005), pp. 351–369. 15 Accessed 24 May 2016. 16  Ferris (2011), pp. 607–625. 12 13

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The paradigmatic dynamics of faith and professionalism can have a varying significance, a rather fluid character. Depending on the arena of intervention (for example the headquarters, international meetings, the country office or meetings with beneficiaries) often one of those characteristics is emphasized. To varying degrees, at different times, faith and professionalism are enacted and performed by people involved in the humanitarian encounter. The conceptions of both faith and of professionalism are not rigid. In their relationality to each other they are not mutually exclusive. Prominence of the one in a given context does not necessarily imply the absence of the other. The aim of this article is to show how discourses and practices of faith and professionalized humanitarianism within the aid complex met—and where they failed to do so. In much the same vein, anthropologist Didier Fassin states, “our task is not to distinguish between good and evil, but to critique the actual conditions that produce social realities”.17 To analyse these social realities the article will introduce the two organizations in question, situate their faith identities and their relationship to the “dense professional world of NGOs”.18 To establish the historical basis for their intervention in Haiti I will first scrutinize the emergence of contemporary humanitarianism from religious traditions and engage with its relationality to colonialism.

Religious Roots and the Colonial Encounter Religious imperatives to get involved with the suffering of others are part of the religious dogma of all of the major religious groups. Almsgiving is a socio-religious duty.19 Righteous Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus are obliged to share and give to the lesser. As a variety of scholars have stressed, contemporary humanitarianism builds—not exclusively but considerably—upon religious principles of morality, solidarity and love.20 A multitude of today’s secular humanitarian and development institutions were originally founded on strong religious grounds and were embedded in a religious moral universe. The humanitarian commitment of personalities such as Henry Dunant, Florence Nightingale and Albert Schweitzer was highly driven by their faith in the teachings of Christ.21 According to Lunn, the entire field of development is grounded in religious ideas.22 Rist argues that development itself takes the form of a quasi-religious dogma when he states: “It is part of our modern religion”.23

 Fassin and Rechtman (2009), p. 280.  Bornstein (2003). 19  Bornstein and Redfield (2011). 20  Calhoun (2008), pp. 73–97. 21  Bornstein and Redfield (2011). 22  Lunn (2009), pp. 937–951. 23  Rist (2008), p. 21. 17 18


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Haitian history then is thoroughly entangled in the presence of religious organizations as much as of aid organizations. Evidently, there is an undeniable link between the decline of colonial states and the emergence of relief agencies.24 In 1947, as a matter of fact, the UN chose the Marbial Valley in southern Haiti as a location for its first experiments with the concept of development25 and built the fundament for a long-standing and thorough interrelation between Haiti and the world of developmental and humanitarian intervention. Especially in Haiti one can observe a longue durée of religious missions, starting with the colonial appropriation of the Americas. The people encountered by the colonizers were not only considered people without history, but first and foremost as people without religion.26 It was first and foremost the institution of the Catholic Church that had the power to legitimize most violent forms of colonial domination. The Vatican was in fact one of the main driving forces and profiteers behind colonialism. According to estimations three quarters of the people enslaved in the colonial French Antilles of the seventeenth and eighteenth century were owned by the Catholic Church.27 However, the atrocious economic project of colonialism with the Caribbean slave plantation as the proto-capitalist “modern system” par excellence28 and the Atlantic as a “revolving door of major global flows over four centuries”29 was also understood as mission civilisatrice by its brokers. “Missionaries usually aspired to both a more far-reaching and a deeper transformation of colonized people than did either administrators or business interests”.30 The prominent role that the Catholic Church still occupies in primary education in Haiti can be read as an effect of their earlier interventions. Accordingly, contemporary humanitarianism is not only the fruit of religious moral obligations but also of the colonial encounter. Haiti, being among the first places colonized and among the first places to successfully overcome European colonization in 1804, is an important site to study the presence of contemporary faith-based humanitarianism.

 aith in Humanitarianism: Caritas Jacmel and Diakonie F Katastrophenhilfe in Post-Earthquake Haiti Faith plays a vital role in the lives of the majority of people affected by the 2010 earthquake—as well as in lives of many of the people that tried to diminish the effects of the earthquake.

 Bornstein and Redfield (2011).  Verna (2017). 26  Maldonado-Torres (2014), pp. 636–665. 27  Rey (1999). 28  James (1989). 29  Trouillot (2003). 30  Keane (2007). 24 25

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A: Now I say: Woy … I went outside, I run into the cathedral, into the church. Now that I enter the church … B:… You went into the church after the earthquake happened? A: During the earthquake … B: During the earthquake??? A: Yes! Because I didn’t know what was really going on. During the earthquake I was in the church. Now, there was a prayer going on, I went to the prayer.

This immediate experience of the 2010 earthquake tellingly describes the significant place of faith for many Haitians in the face of the disaster. Collapsing buildings in particular caused the high mortality rate of the quake. In light of that fact, seeking shelter in a building appears to be as counterintuitive as irrational an act to the unaffected secular outsider. For this person however the church symbolizes security, solace and stability, even if the building itself was about to fall into pieces. Faith in that situation acts as a form of knowledge that helps make sense of and reconfigure one’s world. In Haiti, beneficiaries of humanitarian organizations framed the disaster as much as the subsequent humanitarian aid, their entitlement to the houses they received through the support of organizations as acts of God, a heavenly intervention in their fate. Manouchka Beauchamp, who narrated her experience above, inhabits both worlds: first, as a Haitian woman living in Jacmel, she was personally affected by the disaster, and secondly as an employee of a Haitian faith-based organization, Caritas Jacmel, she was one of the humanitarians active in post-disaster relief. The Haitian Catholic organization Caritas Jacmel is one of the two faith-based organizations that constitute the centre of this article. It will be complemented by the German Protestant organization Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe (Diakonie Emergency Aid). Both FBOs operated in Jacmel, a municipality in the southeastern department of Haiti. In 2011 and 2013, during five months of ethnographic research, I engaged with both organizations, their employees and their beneficiaries. I spent time with them during their everyday working routines in the office context, attended educational seminars, visited the inaugurations of shelters and accompanied medical missions to remote areas with FBO staff. Additionally, I also joined church services and meetings denominationally related and unrelated to the specific organizations as well as political gatherings and conferences, where the status quo of Haiti in relation to the aid complex was discussed. Interviews have been conducted in Jacmel, surrounding communities such as Bainet, Bresilienne and Seguin, in various localities in Port-au-Prince, in Limbé as well as in Berlin, Germany. I spoke to people in office settings, on patios of newly constructed houses, on bricks in front of tents, in cars travelling to field sites, in churches, in bars, at home. In the variety of these contexts I was given the opportunity to observe, talk about and reflect on certain standards and norms of working in the aid complex and specific issues related to the faith of staff and beneficiaries of the two FBOs. With due time I was able to identify where certain standards were met or unmet depending also on the arena they were put into practice.


A. Steinke

Caritas Jacmel as a Network of Faith Caritas Jacmel is part of the network of Caritas Haiti, which itself belongs to the larger body of Caritas Internationalis, seated in Vatican City. In 2013, Caritas Jacmel permanently employed 29 people, exclusively Haitian nationals, and was headed by a local priest. Caritas Jacmel is a mixed-mandate organization, meaning it is involved both in development and in humanitarian initiatives. The organization has tight structural and ontological entanglements to the Catholic Church in Haiti. To intervene in humanitarian crises Caritas Jacmel draws on the tight network of Catholic parishes that permeates the whole diocese of Jacmel. Catholic Christians, often laypersons, act as intermediates between the population and the organization and are trained by and report back to the organization on needs and emergencies in the communities. In terms of their humanitarian motivation, people worked for Caritas Jacmel because they considered themselves Catholic Christians. It was their shared beliefs that provided the basis to the inner coherence of Caritas as an organization, as a team. “A family, that is what we are”, one Caritas employee stated in 2013. During ethnographic research with Caritas Jacmel faith was constantly performed, within the working context, in relation to their beneficiaries as well as when staff met and rejoined at parish level. The Christian faith of its employees was the motor of Caritas Jacmel’s intervention and left its mark on the style of intervention: You are considered to not only go and work here, but you are a pastoral agent, too. You have to uphold the label of the church. You have to promote the church, too,

Janjak Casimir, a Caritas employee explained. People of other faiths were not generally excluded from working with Caritas as there were some Protestants employed in Caritas projects throughout the diocese. However, the director of Caritas Jacmel, a Catholic priest, preferred Catholics as permanent employees, because of the religious activities and Catholic liturgies that marked the working practice in the office. Being familiar with it helped “the integration into the team”, he stated. Here, the Catholic faith functioned as a means of “cultural proximity”31 within the organization. Faith was an inextricable part of the organization’s work ethic and motivation to get involved with the suffering other. Caritas Jacmel considered it as a marker of identity that separated the organization from other NGOs. They not only tended to material needs, but also to spiritual ones. Their aim was to help people to “vin pi moun”,32 to humanize people, to uplift them in their humanity: Caritas has a vision of man in his totality. […] Most NGOs focus on the material development of people, turning poor people into rich people. But we, Caritas, for us it is not only that. We are working with people on the material, spiritual and human dimension, too,

the Programme Coordinator of the organization stated. Faith, in terms of its tight entanglements to the Catholic Church and the personal beliefs of the employees, in 31 32

 Benthall (2012), pp. 65–89.  Haitian Creole, literally to become more human.

Faith and Professionalism in Humanitarian Encounters in Post-Earthquake Haiti


combination with its local embeddedness is the standout feature that separates Caritas from the masses of NGOs working in Haiti. The materiality produced in their post-earthquake intervention was the provision of houses to affected citizens. Between 2010 and 2013 Caritas Jacmel erected 157 houses in Jacmel and its hinterland. The vast majority of Caritas’ beneficiaries were Catholic Christians. On the one hand that fact reflects the religious landscape in and around Jacmel, where the majority of people identifies as Roman Catholics, as opposed to other regions in Haiti where Protestant churches gained more influence in the past decades (Édouard and Faustin 2009).33 On the other, it allows conclusions on the distributive practice which was primarily organized over the parish structure—especially in remote areas often one of the few if not the only structure of societal organization that goes beyond the bonds of extended family. For the selection of their beneficiaries Caritas applied the categories of vulnerability assessment common in humanitarian conduct, like family size, the number of children, the number of disabled people etc. In choosing the ultimate beneficiaries for their housing projects they chose a method different from other organizations: they did a lottery. The names of those deemed worthy of their support according to the categories of vulnerability applied earlier were put into a bowl and a member of the community drew as many names as the respective project budget allowed. This method was broadly accepted by the communities for a variety of reasons. After the first selection, Caritas did not establish a hierarchy of need among those in evident need. Caritas employees stated their experiences and difficulties to establish a hierarchy between those seriously affected by the earthquake. Because of the overall catastrophe but also because of the already dire situation before, in their eyes, everyone was a victim and nearly everyone was in need. By selecting a lottery as the method of choice, Caritas thus avoided sentiments of envy and resentment in the community of survivors and possible accusations of nepotism towards employees of the organization. The embeddedness of Caritas in the social fabric of the communities enabled a high level of trust and accountability. However, in the end, people ascribed the fact of being chosen for the housing projects to heavenly intervention, an act of God: “It was the eternal that made the Caritas person see me”, one beneficiary stated in 2011. The faith in divine providence is widespread among Caritas beneficiaries: I serve the church. I know what I have lost will be replaced through the goodwill of God. Beside the house … I got the house as a first step … like a first candle of light. I know God can also give me the rest.

 Édouard and Faustin (2009). Due to the porous boundaries of religiosity in Haiti—people often practise more than one religion—and to the general lack of census information there is no reliable data on religious affiliation.



A. Steinke

With the lottery method the organization withdrew from having to take the final decision and handed the responsibility over to abstract forces subsequently interpreted as luck, fate or divine intervention.

Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe and the Ten Commandments The second organization analysed is Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, the humanitarian agency of the Evangelical Church in Germany. The organization is active in about 40 countries all over the world. Their mandate is a strict humanitarian one as Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe intervenes in contexts of disaster and displacement. Even though management staff in Haiti discussed concepts such as linking relief, rehabilitation and development (LRRD), the organization leaves development work to their German faith-based sister organization Brot für die Welt, Bread for the World. Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe usually implements projects through local partner organizations. Haiti is one of the few places where Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe established its own local representation in 2005. Thus, the humanitarian organization had settled in the country already before the 2010 earthquake. In 2013, Diakonie had 24 employees in Haiti, a team consisting of national as well as expatriate staff. The significance of faith as a unique feature of the German organization varied depending on the level of intervention. During the last decade Diakonie reinforced the focus on faith as a standout feature in their headquarters, according to an employee. In Berlin everyone employed by the organization has to be a member of a Christian church officially acknowledged under the ACK clause, the clause of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen, the Council of Christian Churches in Germany. The headquarters has a place for worship and staff are invited for prayer on special occasions. The tight entanglements to the Evangelical Church in Germany and an overall religious contextualization of their humanitarian engagement are made explicit in the official representation of the organization in Germany. The organization’s conception of human dignity is inherently Christian, deriving from the idea that humans are created in imago dei, the image and likeness of God. Diakonie presents its humanitarian engagement as “based on the Christian concept of humanity and on having overall responsibility for God’s creation”.34 Much like with Caritas Jacmel, the head of Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe is a religious expert, a pastor of the Protestant church. In their humanitarian mission to Haiti though, the faith background of the organization is barely tangible. While employees in Berlin are required to be Christians, there are no such demands for expatriate or national staff. On the contrary, according to the Country Director of the organization, if someone expresses an overly strong religious motivation, the person is less likely to be employed. People are hired not because, but in spite of their religious background. In their mission to


 Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe (2011).

Faith and Professionalism in Humanitarian Encounters in Post-Earthquake Haiti


Haiti, the potential religiosity of staff does not relate to the organizational coherence as such. While there are employees—Haitian and expatriate alike—who have a religious affiliation, faith is not performed in the working context. As exceptions prove the rule, there were a few instances in moments of rupture, like the earthquake, when acts of faith were collectively performed by staff. However, several expatriate employees reported of discomfort about the performance of religiosity in humanitarian conduct, especially in the meeting of member organizations in the context of the Action by Churches Together (ACT) alliance in Haiti: I think this is a Christian faith, Christian goodness of ‘I want to help others regardless’ and it’s a bit difficult for me personally sometimes to work that way. I look more for […] a bit more efficiency and less Christian charity,

one expatriate employee stated in 2013. The faith-based organization also refused to cooperate with other clerical institutions during their post-earthquake intervention in Haiti. Instead of their religious background Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe emphasized its professionalism in their intervention in Haiti, most tangible in their adherence to the core humanitarian principles as laid down in the 1994 Red Cross “Code of Conduct in Disaster Relief”. “The Code of Conduct is our Ten Commandments on the ground”, a headquarters employee in Berlin stated. This specific set of rules and standards is elevated to a quasi-sacred norm in Diakonie’s mode of intervention. The Code of Conduct is charged with religious connotation. This for one is a case in point for Barnett’s and Gross Stein’s conception of sanctification in humanitarian conduct. It also highlights the different approaches towards the faith background of the organization at the different levels of intervention. While the headquarters in Berlin puts a greater emphasis on the religious foundations of the organization, the professional identity of the organization on the ground in Haiti was emphasized in opposition to its faith background. Diakonie at the level of intervention in Haiti downplayed their religious foundation to appear more aligned to professional standards of humanitarian conduct, as the examples of the recruitment practices and the restraint not to cooperate with church institutions shows. The organization focused on the perceptions of their mission and its professionalism mostly outside of Haiti. On the grounds of their strict humanitarian mandate and because they are not a local organization, they had to react to the pressure applied by donor institutions in a different way than Caritas Jacmel. The organization as a whole applied a form of strategic secularism, adapted to the requirements and postulations of the “dense professional world of NGOs”35 in secular modernities. In terms of quantifiable materialities, Diakonie reconstructed and built approximately 2000 houses between 2010 and 2013. To choose their beneficiaries Diakonie too established a system of vulnerability categories very similar to those applied by Caritas Jacmel. In contrast to Caritas though, the organization took the final decision itself by approximating an objectified scale of vulnerability. Again, Diakonie 35

 Bornstein (2003).


A. Steinke

staff legitimated the application of this method with the adherence to standardized methods in humanitarianism: “We have those selection criteria because it is really important in the framework of humanitarian action.” However, at the same time the Programme Manager of the organization cautioned against the challenges inscribed in this form of conduct: It is not for everyone. That means it is possible that you have two poor people, two people whose situation is not good, and you have to decide whom to give a dollar. You have to decide, that’s what’s not good.

Especially in a situation like post-earthquake Haiti, a context described as a protracted humanitarian crisis even before the 2010 disaster, differentiating between victims is a dire challenge. Tout moun viktim, everyone is a victim, was the core narrative in the weeks subsequent to the earthquake. While Caritas decided to suspend the final decision about distribution to, depending on the perspective, serendipity or God’s goodwill, Diakonie tried to ultimately hierarchize people’s needs. Especially in remote areas with little personal ties to the communities and little control by the organization, this method led to some discontent among the beneficiary population. First of all, the professional and technocratic methods of ultimately deciphering degrees of vulnerability were not necessarily equally meaningful to people in the communities. Secondly, accusations of nepotism and fraud were made against local public authorities that provided the organization with information on the potential beneficiaries. Even though it did not relate to the distributive practice of the organization at all—because local public authorities assisted Diakonie in selecting target populations—all beneficiaries interviewed in 2011 stated to be of Catholic faith, too. Much like Caritas’ beneficiaries those granted houses by Diakonie interpreted their entitlement to the houses and the humanitarians delivering them in divine terms: “That is God’s work. It is God who sent them to come to save Haitians”, 65-year-old Wideline Josue stated.

The Crux of Professionalization While the necessity of professionalization—understood as the intention to put a standard of rules and procedures in place to safeguard the humanitarian community against misconduct—is undisputed among humanitarians, it created certain unintended consequences, too.36 For example, the gap between global players—internationally operating organizations—and local NGOs—those with a relatively confined radius of intervention—widened. Even within the same network of organizations like the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement or Caritas Internationalis, these divides exist. This inequality is a source of permanent discontent between southern and northern Caritas within the Caritas Internationalis network.37 36 37

 Hilhorst (2005).  Caritas Internationalis (2003).

Faith and Professionalism in Humanitarian Encounters in Post-Earthquake Haiti


Moreover, professionalization or a failed conception thereof can be used as a means of exclusion.38 A certain degree of internationalization forms part of the professionalization of the humanitarian sector. However, to give an example of post-­ earthquake Haiti, the majority of cluster meetings in the early phase of intervention were held in English in the difficult-to-access UN logbase and thus excluded many Haitian organizations. A Haitian NGO director stated: “In the context where decisions were being made in foreign spaces, in English, it was clear that Haitian people were excluded from everything, that we weren’t envisioned as having a role to play in the reconstruction of our own country”.39 Another aspect of the dynamics of exclusion entangled in the processes of professionalization is the monopolization of technical knowledge by expatriate humanitarians40 to ultimately render themselves indispensable to the organizations. Here the relationship of power between expatriate and national staff is actually comparable to the relationality between NGO staff and beneficiaries in other contexts. NGO employees in Zimbabwe explained their reluctance to really empower their beneficiaries as an attempt not to “work themselves out of their job”.41 Not only is the divide between international and local organizations widened, but a misguided conception of professionalism can also increase the gap between expatriate and national staff. In Diakonie, the professional skills of Haitian employees were contested by expatriate management staff on a variety of occasions. Often, their abilities were compared to the expertise of expatriate staff. “They wouldn’t act like that if a German had built it”, one Haitian staff member commented when an emergency shelter built by DKH was inspected and received a series of discontented remarks. The dynamics described to some extent mirror the general divergence between national and international staff in humanitarian encounters. Professional capacities are ascribed to people according to their “race” and therefore valuated with higher positions and salaries.42 It is not unusual for an expatriate employee of a humanitarian organization to earn multiple times more than a Haitian colleague,43 plus housing allowances and family and security bonuses. Sometimes the strict adherence to international standards and thus standards considered professional interfere with other standards and even reinforce existing hierarchies between national and expatriate staff. The Haitian Programme Manager of Diakonie had an intense dispute with an expatriate sent in for the emergency over the distributions of tents to families in Jacmel. Whereas the expatriate argued in favour of complying with international standards by giving one tent to one family, the Haitian professional fought for the division of tents as performed by the

 Ferris (2011).  Cited in Schuller (2017), pp. 68–73. 40  Schuller (2016). 41  Bornstein (2003). 42  Fechter and Walsh (2010), pp. 1197–1210. 43  Schuller (2016). 38 39


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beneficiaries themselves, who had already moved into the tunnel tents in two-family formations. Eventually the expatriate gave in, considering the scarcity of resources and the community-based culture in Haiti. However, the underlying conflict was not solely about the adherence to bureaucratic standards, but also a struggle over power, definition, and the different valuation of knowledge between national and expatriate staff. To some extent this was tackled by an internal evaluation of the post-­earthquake intervention. The final report recommended explicit attention to the structures of decision-making for expatriate staff in the future. While a headquarters employee in Berlin enthusiastically spoke of the Red Cross Code of Conduct as “our Ten Commandments in the field”, and regular training on the contents of the code was conducted with office staff in Haiti, standardization and the proper adherence to humanitarian standards and principles did not provide a solid basis for identification and coherence within the team in Haiti. Caritas too was highly entangled in the “dense professional world of NGOs”,44 mainly in monetary terms. “More often than not, NGOs in Haiti are groups that have money and they come and distribute money. We ourselves, we do not have any money as it is”, Père Valery, the head of Caritas Jacmel, stated in an interview. An official report of Caritas Internationalis confirmed the entanglements between Anglo-European Caritas and Caritas from the Global South resemble “donor–recipient” relationships more than equitable Caritas partnerships.45 The same dynamic could be observed in Haiti. The majority of their post-earthquake projects were funded externally, mainly through different national Caritas, like Trocaire, Cordaid or the Spanish Caritas. A variety of bureaucratic procedures and reporting mechanisms were a result of donor requirements. While Caritas Jacmel made very clear that they do not discriminate against people of other faiths on the grounds of their morality as Catholics, the requirement to include non-Catholic people into the housing scheme was in fact donor-driven. However, Caritas Jacmel’s sense of professionalism was not only oriented towards donor requirements but also first and foremost directed towards the Haitian population. Their accountability focused on their beneficiaries, their neighbours in the Christian as well as in the literal sense. The “dense professional world of NGOs”46 was subordinated to this logic for example when they decided to dissociate themselves from the masses of international organizations in the so-called “Republic of NGOs”. Even though they admit to acting “much like an NGO”, for image purposes Caritas in Haiti prefers to be called a foundation rather than an NGO, “because NGOs do not always have a good reputation in the country”. Clearly the focus lies on the perception of the organization inside the Haitian communities rather than in the international community of aid organizations. They focus on how they are perceived by their beneficiaries and try to resist being associated with the mechanisms of international aid.

 Bornstein (2003).  Caritas Internationalis (2003). 46  Bornstein (2003). 44 45

Faith and Professionalism in Humanitarian Encounters in Post-Earthquake Haiti


Caritas Jacmel is an organization that puts into practice an outright religious vocation. Accordingly, their adherence to humanitarian principles is justified by their faith: “We cannot do just anything because we have to maintain our dignity as a church”, an employee stated. Also, the director of Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe in Germany conceptualized the core humanitarian principles as originally deriving from Christian ethics: Rather it was also the ethical principle of Jesus that everyone who is in need of care is partaking in it, regardless of his background, religious or national or whatever. What appears to be secular here is inherently Christian. Rather one might ask oneself if what you can find in international law does not also have Christian roots.

Yet, as explained above, this perspective does not coherently create a sense of meaning in their intervention in Haiti.

Conclusion In what ways then, do categories of faith and professionalism relate in the work of humanitarian organizations today? Both organizations studied provided affected Haitians with one of the most valuable materialities in post-earthquake Haiti: housing. The question is not which organization succeeded in its mission in that sense. They both did. Effectiveness should not be measured “entirely in material terms”47 though. Faith-based organizations often add value and meaning about social life, too, and therefore provide a more holistic vision of the improvement of human conditions. It became evident that faith is not the opposite of professionalism, nor does it hinder professional humanitarian conduct per se. It can help create a sense of belonging that also affects the level of accountability towards staff and beneficiaries. Both dynamics, faith and professionalism, influence the organizational cultures of Caritas and Diakonie, to a varying degree. The faith emphasis of Caritas Jacmel is not the antidote to a presumably modern professional mode of Diakonie. On the contrary it enables Caritas to establish relationships of trust, a sense of belonging and accountability towards staff and beneficiaries. Likewise, the absence of a religious discourse that could connect expatriate and Haitian employees and the overall team to the beneficiaries of Diakonie does not necessarily turn the organization into a technocratic machine. However, it does not automatically make it more professional either. Both phenomena, faith and professionalism, are embedded in the dynamic relation between secularization and sanctification that influences the humanitarian sector as a whole. An increase of the one does not necessarily result in the decrease of the other, as Barnett and Gross Stein stated.48 Following their line of argument, they can and do alter each other’s character though, as evident in the analysis above. For

47 48

 Taithe (2012), pp. 166–187.  Barnett and Stein (2015).


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Caritas Jacmel the demands of bureaucratization grew. In Diakonie the performance of faith was in a constant process of renegotiation in and between the levels of intervention, the headquarters and the field mission. Professionalism, just like faith, is part of a performative culture within organizations. It can help advance an organization, make it more accountable and thus more successful on a competitive market of humanitarian assistance. However, the standardization can also turn humanitarians into “technocrats of misery”49 that have lost touch with the “humanitarian reason”50 of intervention. In October 2017, Alberto Cairo of the International Committee of the Red Cross passionately pleaded for a return to the focus on the human person, on people’s needs rather than arbitrary humanitarian categories. Regardless of the ways the organizations enacted faith in their intervention, the people they served with their housing projects were almost exclusively Catholic Christians. They appropriated their entitlement to the aid given as an act of divine intervention. To them it was God who saw them in their misery. The employees of the FBOs were seen as mere mediators of God’s goodwill, or maybe, following Appadurai’s line of argument, they were mediants that produce materialities.51

References Appadurai, Arjun. 2015. Mediants, materiality, normativity. Public Culture 27 (2): 221–237. Barnett, Michael. 2012. Faith in the Machine? Humanitarianism in Age of Bureaucratization. In Sacred aid. Faith and humanitarianism, ed. Michael Barnett and Janice Gross Stein, 188–210. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Barnett, Michael, and Janice Gross Stein, eds. 2015. Sacred aid. Faith and humanitarianism. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Benthall, Jonathan. 2012. “Cultural proximity” and the conjuncture of Islam with modern humanitarianism. In Sacred aid. Faith and humanitarianism, ed. Michael Barnett and Janice Gross Stein, 65–89. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Bornstein, Erica. 2003. The spirit of development. Protestant NGOs, morality, and economics in Zimbabwe. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Bornstein, Erica, and Peter Redfield, eds. 2011. Forces of compassion. Humanitarianism between ethics and politics. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press. Calhoun, Craig. 2008. The imperative to reduce suffering: Charity, progress, and emergencies in the field of humanitarian action. In Humanitarianism in question. Politics, power, ethics, ed. Michael Barnett and Thomas G. Weiss, 73–97. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Caritas Internationalis. 2003. Caritas partnership. A Caritas Internationalis handbook for reflection and action. Clarke, Gerard, and Michael Jennings, eds. 2008. Development, civil society and faith-based organizations. Bridging the sacred and the secular. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe. 2011. Annual report. Berlin: Diakonisches Werk der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland e.V.

 Kouchner, cited in Barnett and Stein (2015).  Fassin (2012). 51  Appadurai (2015). 49 50

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Édouard, Roberson, and Charles Daly Faustin. 2009. Une société parallèle: la vocation du peuple? Essai sur le dédoublement de la société haïtienne. Paris: L’Harmattan. Fassin, Didier. 2012. Humanitarian reason. A moral history of the present. Berkeley: University of California Press. Fassin, Didier, and Paul Rechtman. 2009. The empire of trauma. An inquiry into the condition of victimhood. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Fechter, Anne-Meike, and Katie Walsh. 2010. Examining ‘expatriate’ continuities: postcolonial approaches to mobile professionals. Journal of Ethnic & Migration Studies 36 (8): 1197–1210. Ferris, Elisabeth. 2011. Faith and humanitarianism: It’s complicated. Journal of Refugee Studies 24 (3): 607–625. Hilhorst, Dorothea. 2005. Dead letter of living document? Ten years of the code of conduct for disaster relief. Disasters 29 (4): 351–369. Hopgood, Stephen, and Leslie Vinjamuri. 2012. Faith in markets. In Sacred aid. Faith and humanitarianism, ed. Michael Barnett and Janice Gross Stein, 37–64. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. James, C.L.R. 1989. The black Jacobins. Toussaint L’Ouverture and the san domingo revolution. New York: Vintage Books. Karajkov, Risto. 2007. The power of NGOs: They’re big, but how big? WorldPress. Retrieved from Keane, Webb. 2007. Christian moderns: Freedom and fetish in the mission encounter. Berkeley: University of California Press. Lundahl, Mats. 2013. The political economy of disaster: Destitution, plunder and earthquake in Haiti. New York: Routledge. Lunn, Jenny. 2009. The role of religion, spirituality and faith in development: A critical theory approach. Third World Quarterly 30 (5): 937–951. Maldonado-Torres, Nelson. 2014. Religion, conquest, and race in the foundations of the modern/ colonial world. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82 (3): 636–665. Ramachandran, Vijaya, and Julie Walz. 2012. Haiti: Where has all the money gone? CGD policy paper 4. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development. Rey, Terry. 1999. Our lady of class struggle: The cult of the Virgin Mary in Haiti. Trenton/Asmara: Africa World Press. Rist, Gilbert. 2008. History of development. From western origins to global faith. New  York: Zed Books. Schuller, Mark. 2016. Humanitarian aftershocks in Haiti. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. ———. 2017. Haiti’s ‘republic of NGOs’. Current History 116 (787): 68–73. Steinke, Andrea. 2017. Faith in humanitarianism. The study of two faith-based organizations in post-earthquake Haiti. PhD dissertation, Freie Universität Berlin. Retrieved from www.diss. Taithe, Bertrand. 2012. Pyrrhic victories? French catholic missionaries, modern expertise, and secularizing technologies. In Sacred aid. Faith and humanitarianism, ed. Michael Barnett and Janice Gross Stein, 166–187. New York: Oxford University Press. Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 2003. Global transformations: Anthropology and the modern world. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Verna, Chantalle F. 2017. Haiti and the uses of America: Post-U.S. occupation promises. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Walker, Peter. 2005. Cracking the code: the genesis, use and future of the Code of Conduct. Disasters 29: 323–336.

Religion and Sustainable Development: The “Secular Distinction” in Development Policy and Its Implication for Development Cooperation with Religious Communities Philipp Öhlmann, Stefan Hunglinger, Wilhelm Gräb, and Marie-Luise Frost

Abstract  Development policy and research increasingly recognize the potential contribution of religious communities to sustainable development. The emerging discourse on religion and development, however, is contingent on Western discursive contexts that operate on the basis of a “secular distinction” between the religious and the secular. Development is located in the secular sphere and the resultant approach to religion is functional. We show this for the case of German development policy by investigating key policy documents on religion and development. The secular notion of development stands in contrast to the perspective of development by religious communities in “developing countries”, which we highlight using the example of African Initiated Churches. In these churches’ view, people’s spiritual and material needs are intertwined, and sustainable development as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be separated from religious dimensions of life. Notions of development, we hence argue, constitute forms of

P. Öhlmann (*) Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany e-mail: [email protected] S. Hunglinger Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany e-mail: [email protected] W. Gräb Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa e-mail: [email protected] M.-L. Frost Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 J. Hensold et al. (eds.), Religion in Motion,



P. Öhlmann et al.

situated knowledge dependent on their discursive contexts. If development cooperation is to engage with religious communities at the level of values, ideas and beliefs, it must also engage with their notions of development as ends of mutual partnership.

Introduction: Religious Turn and Secular Distinction1 The past 20 years have witnessed a “religious turn”2 in international development theory, policy and practice. Since Ver Beek’s famous description of spirituality as “a development taboo”,3 much has changed. Various governmental and multilateral development organizations have recognized religion as a relevant factor for development in past, present and future. The World Faiths Development Dialogue jointly initiated by the World Bank and the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1998 was one of the first initiatives in this direction.4 Unilateral engagements with the issue of religion and development followed, for example by the British Department of International Development (DFID) or the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in the early 2000s.5 In 2014, also the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) engaged with religion. While the ministry has co-financed the German Catholic and Protestant churches’ development cooperation since 1962, it now also intends to cooperate with religious actors on a broader level. The ministry inter alia commissioned a sectoral project on “Values and Religion” to the German development agency (GIZ), passed a policy on “Religious communities as partners for development cooperation”6 and initiated the establishment of the multilateral network “International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development” (PaRD). At the same time, scholars have engaged with the religion and development nexus as well. Over the past 20 years, a rapidly growing corpus of literature has investigated the manifold relationships and interactions of the two.7 Religion and development is emerging as a whole new transdisciplinary research field, drawing on various disciplines such as political science,8 anthropology,9 theology10 and 1  Financial support by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development is gratefully acknowledged. 2  Kaag and Saint-Lary (2011). 3  Ver Beek (2000). 4  Belshaw et al. (2001). 5  Haynes (2009); Holenstein (2010). 6  Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (2016a). 7  Jones and Petersen (2011); Swart and Nell (2016). 8  Bompani (2010). 9  Freeman (2012). 10  Bowers-Du Toit (2016); Heuser (2015).

Religion and Sustainable Development: The “Secular Distinction” in Development…


economics.11 To some extent, the academic interest in religion and development has been driven by the recent policy interest in the issue, as Jones and Petersen point out.12 Different development institutions commissioned research projects in order to engage with religion. Examples are the “Religions and Development Research Programme” at the University of Birmingham (funded by DFID), the German Institute for Global and Area Studies’ project “The Influence of Religion on Sustainable Development” (funded by BMZ) and the “Research Programme on Religious Communities and Sustainable Development” at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (whose research is largely funded by BMZ, too). While this religious turn has undoubtedly moved the two discursive spheres of religion and development closer together, to a large extent the discourses on their intersections take place within secular frameworks. They are based on a Western-initiated and widespread “secular distinction”13 between the religious (or sacred) and the secular (or profane). In these frameworks the implicit assumption is that the activities of religious communities can be separated into spiritual and non-spiritual activities. Religion (as spirituality) is seen on the one side, development on the other. Moreover, to a large extent the discourses follow a commodifying functional approach.14 They focus on what religious communities’ contributions to a secular development agenda are or could potentially be. The development agenda and imagination, as framed in (inter-) governmental strategies such as the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, remains a secular one. Nowhere in the United Nations resolution on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is religion or are religious communities mentioned explicitly.15 Most international development organizations operate on the basis of a secular distinction and conceptually separate religious/spiritual activities from those considered to be development-relevant.16 “Both the modernist and Marxist viewpoints which have strongly influenced theory, policy and practice over the past 60 years strongly determined the neglect of religion in Western-driven development”,17 as Lunn points out. Bompani similarly notes, “[m]ainstream development has […] been driven by a predominantly modernist, Western, secular view of the world”.18 This holds true even for a large portion of religious, humanitarian and development organizations. They consider themselves as professional development organizations, who only find their motivation in a religious background, but whose religious  Beck and Gundersen (2016); Öhlmann and Hüttel (2018).  Jones and Petersen (2011). 13  Gräb (2016). 14  Deneulin and Bano (2009); Jones and Petersen (2011). 15  United Nations (2015). 16  Ver Beek (2000). 17  Lunn (2009), p. 947. 18  Bompani (2015), p. 101. 11 12


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background does not influence their work. With reference to the African context, Gifford describes this as the “‘NGO-­ization’ of the mainline churches” and sees it as an adaptation to secular donors’ requirements.19 Ver Beek cites the example of the U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services, while Steinke highlights this tendency for the case of Diakonie Emergency Aid in the context of Haiti.20 An international example is the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), a global network of churches of Lutheran confession. The LWF has been active in development work and humanitarian aid since the 1940s and recently engaged with issues of religion and development.21 From an outside perspective, this is rather surprising. Why does a religious organization that has been active in development and humanitarian work since the 1940s suddenly feel the need to tackle conceptual questions on religion and development? Should the relationship between the two concepts not be at the core of the work and the identity of this religious organization? The initiative by the LWF can only be explained by acknowledging that the LWF has hitherto subscribed to the dominant, secular view on development. This highlights the influence of the secular distinction even in religious development policy and practice. The widely used term “faith-based organization” illustrates the discursive secularization and commodification of religious actors: they are not actually identified as religious actors, but as such actors that focus on the supposedly secular issue of development and which merely have an institutional background or history in a religious community. While faith-based organizations derive the motivation for their activities from religious beliefs, tenets and values i.e. from the “religious sphere”, what the organization does is located in the “secular sphere”.22 In order to fit religious organizations into the secular discourse on development, their (religious) motivation and (secular) activities are linguistically separated, implicitly highlighting that there is nothing “spiritual” or “religious” (and hence supposedly irrelevant for development) in their actions. As Gräb points out, the secular distinction implies a “compartmentalized containment of religion […]. Religion is declared to be an affair of those that are religious, of churches and religious communities.”23 Religion is reduced to its institutional dimension. Dimensions of “lived religion” are left out24—even though they are much more relevant in shaping world views and constructing meaning in life.25 In the field it is rarely noted that this political conceptualization and use of religion inherits aspects of the harmful deployment of “civilizing religion” and/or secularism in the context of colonial projects. Reflecting the

 Gifford (1994), p. 521.  Steinke (2020); Ver Beek (2000). 21  Mtata (2013). 22  Ferris (2011). 23  Gräb (2016), p. 371. 24  Gräb (2016). 25  Ver Beek (2000). 19 20

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entanglement of the post-colonial and the post-secular, Lloyd and Viefhues-Bailey pointedly state: The modern provenance of the concept of religion suggests that it is a concept that is epistemically misleading and ethically problematic. “Religion” misleads since it does not refer to any truly universal phenomenon. Instead, religion universalizes a particular parochial configuration and thus imposes an alien and alienating order of knowledge-­power onto societies and phenomena under the sway of Western colonial power. […] scholarship interrogating the concept of religion does not argue that religion is being transformed in modernity. Rather, religion is produced together with the very disciplines that also shape the secular state—the particularly modern invasive state form that Foucault labels governmentality.26

The Secular Distinction in German Development Policy The secular approach to development has been a fundamental feature of international development policy for decades. It has its roots in the early development theories of modernization (and secularization), in which religion on the one hand was seen as backward-oriented and modernization and development on the other were seen as forward-oriented.27 In the case of Germany, the continuing prevalence of the secular distinction becomes apparent inter alia in the recent strategy paper on religion published by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, entitled “Religious communities as partners for development cooperation”.28 In the document, the ministry states that “[w]ithin the scope of our cooperation, no activities are allowed that serve to spread or preach a religion”.29 This implicitly assumes that such activities can be separated from development-related activities done by religious communities. The secular approach is evident in BMZ’s cooperation with the German churches, too. In a longstanding church–state cooperation on development, the ministry has been funding German churches’ development cooperation since 1962.30 This cooperation is governed by specific regulations decreed by the ministry for cooperation with the Catholic and Protestant Central Agencies for Development Aid.31 These regulations stipulate that only “development-relevant measures” (Entwicklungswichtige Vorhaben”, Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit 2015b) may be financed. While no exact definition of the term

 Lloyd and Viefhues-Bailey (2015), pp. 17–18. This becomes especially clear when the oftenused concept of world religions is interrogated more closely, see Masuzawa (2005). As Ziai and Eckert argue, the development discourse more broadly carries forward—simultaneously to significant changes—continuities from colonial “civilizing missions” (Ziai 2016; Eckert 2015). 27  See e.g. Deneulin and Bano (2009). 28  Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (2016a). 29  Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (2016a), p. 12. 30  Beimdiek et al. (2018). 31  Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (2015b). 26


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is provided, the document further outlines the kind of activities that fall under the term:32 The measures should –– particularly benefit poor and disadvantaged people and groups (Option for the Poor); as a principle no social or religious groups are excluded; –– create conditions for the development of people’s ability to help themselves and to strengthen their self-reliance; –– contribute to enabling poor and disadvantaged persons to actively claim their interests and rights in state and society; –– enable charitable partner structures and local organizations to support the poor in a qualified manner to improve their own situation and to plan, execute and accompany the actions necessary for this end and to learn from these actions; –– be suitable to strengthen development-relevant interests of disadvantaged groups and to promote their realization at national and transnational level, to increase spaces of action and to contribute to peace and reconciliation.

Significantly, the reference to the theological concept of the “Option for the Poor” introduced by Latin American Liberation Theology is not seen in tension with the claim that “measures in the area of ecclesiastic proclamation are excluded from financial support”33 Even though the ministry aims for ideological neutrality, it chooses specific representatives and approaches from different religions coherent with its agenda. Examples of these theological choices are the recurrent use of the “world ethos” theory or a collection of SDG-supportive theological contributions edited by the ministry.34 While these examples demonstrate the inclusion of religious ideas and concepts on a strategic level, thus far it remains somewhat unclear what the actual consequences are for policy and practice.

 “2.1 Die Maßnahmen sollen insbesondere


–– armen und benachteiligten Menschen und Gruppen zugutekommen (Option für die Armen); grundsätzlich werden dabei keine gesellschaftlichen oder religiösen Gruppen ausgegrenzt; –– Voraussetzungen dafür schaffen, dass Selbsthilfefähigkeit entwickelt und Eigenverantwortung gestärkt wird; –– dazu beitragen, dass die armen und benachteiligten Menschen ihre Anliegen und Rechte in Staat und Gesellschaft aktiv vertreten können; –– gemeinnützige Partner–/ Trägerstrukturen und Organisationen der Bevölkerung in die Lage versetzen, die Armen qualifiziert dabei zu unterstützen, ihre Lebenssituation zu verbessern und die dafür notwendigen Vorhaben zu planen, durchzuführen, zu begleiten und daraus zu lernen; –– geeignet sein, entwicklungswichtige Anliegen benachteiligter Gruppen zu stärken und deren Durchsetzung auf nationaler und transnationaler Ebene zu fördern, Handlungsspielräume zu erweitern sowie zu Frieden und Versöhnung beizutragen.” Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (2015b), pp. 2–3.  “Maßnahmen im Bereich der kirchlichen Verkündigung sind von der Förderung […] ausgeschlossen […].”, Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit  und Entwicklung (2015b), p. 3. 34  E.g. Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (2016b, c). 33

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The approach of German development policy to religion remains within the secular and functional paradigm.35 BMZ’s recent policy paper on Africa, the “Marshall Plan with Africa”,36 specifically mentions religious communities as relevant actors. The perspective on them, however, is purely functional: Churches and faith communities have always played a pivotal role in providing social services, especially in the areas of education and health. They reach people even in places where no public institutions or systems exist. In countries where the opposition or civil society are weak, religious representatives are often the only ones to raise their voice and expose corruption and social injustice.37

Only institutional aspects of religious communities are mentioned: they are social service providers with extensive networks and they do advocacy. No reference is made to the ideological dimension, to belief systems, values, norms, ideas, aesthetics and spirituality—all fundamental components of religious practices. The development-relevant and the religious remain separate.38

 otions of Development in Religious Communities: N The Example of African Initiated Christianity Notions of development emerging from religious communities, we would argue, are quite different from what has been outlined so far. We illustrate this using the example of African Initiated Churches, i.e. churches founded in Africa by Africans, whose membership constitutes about one third of Africa’s Christianity.39 We draw on church leader interviews conducted in various African countries, some of which were reported on in previous articles.40  Garling argues that part of this paradigm is the exoticist othering of partner countries and their citizens as highly and essentially religious while the very own position is framed as a neutral and enlightened one, including the ability to properly separate politics from religion (Garling 2013, pp. 113–117). 36  Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (2017a). 37  Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (2017a), p. 8. 38  Interestingly, this stands in contrast to the imagery of the ministry’s initiative, which features ritualistic and aesthetic aspects of religious communities in colourful illustrations. See e.g. the ministry’s promotional video “Religion and Development” (Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung 2017b) as well as the brochuress as partners for development cooperation” (Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung 2016b) and “The role of religion in German development policy” (Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung 2015a). 39  We include African independent as well as African Pentecostal churches in this definition. 40  Öhlmann et  al. (2016a,  b, 2017);  Frost et  al. (2018). In the following, some interviewees are listed by (their preferred) name and some anonymously. This is done in accordance with the interviewees’ preferences. 35


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Pastor Elijah Daramola, at the time coordinator of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Southern Africa, encapsulated his view on development in the pointed sentence: “Spiritual development is part of development. A good life includes spirituality”.41 This holistic view on development, in which the spiritual dimension features as an integral part, is further illustrated by interview responses to the question “What are the major problems in people’s lives?”.42 Items related to spirituality (such as a “need for salvation”) were mentioned along with items related to material or social needs. Similarly, when asked about how the churches supported the communities, the question was not understood in a purely material sense by many African Initiated Churches’ representatives. Spiritual activities (such as Sunday schools, religious programmes on community radio, praying for people, funeral services) were mentioned along with activities like providing scholarships or running schools and hospitals that would be qualified as development-­related activities in a secular discourse. Lastly, especially smaller South African churches’ self-reported priorities in case development funding became available show the construction or expansion of a church as a high priority. Having a house for services and prayer is seen as a development priority at a similar level of importance as economic development activities such as skills development.43 This is a recurring theme in the interviews. Most church leaders in South Africa as well as in West African countries underlined the importance of providing both spiritual and material support. A Nigerian church leader explained: When it comes to development, we have spiritual development, we have physical and social development. So, so you cannot separate any of the development from each other, because the church provides both the social and the spiritual development.44

Moreover, as Bishop Elias Mashabela, leader of Bophelong Bible Church in South Africa, pointed out, this dimension is the element that provides added value to churches’ activities that are otherwise similar to the programmes of non-religious development actors: The NGOs are taking care of people, but they do not take care of the spiritual part of the human being. So, we are taking care of the people, […] but we go beyond. We also look at the spiritual well-being of the persons […]. We run similar programmes, but we do more by adding the spiritual level.45

Not only are both areas seen to be important, but the quote from the Nigerian church leader shows that they are understood as being closely intertwined and the church is

 Interview with Elijah Daramola, South Africa, 16 February 2016.  As reported in Öhlmann et al. (2016b), p. 6. 43  Öhlmann et al. (2016a). 44  Interview with a church leader, Nigeria, 07 October 2017. 45  Interview with Elias Mashabela, South Africa, 04 March 2016. 41 42

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seen to be responsible for both areas. The notion of an added value of the interrelatedness of spiritual and social work for sustainable development is emphasized by Archbishop Daniel Okoh, General Superintendent of the Nigerian Christ Holy Church and President of the Organization of African Instituted Churches: “Actually, the spiritual and ministry work drive the social work of the church. […] The interrelatedness sustains both”.46 Similarly, Pastor Holymike, another South African church leader, stated: “I believe that if you preach the Word it has to be made practical.”47 He referred to John 13:35, where Jesus tells the disciples that they will be recognized by others through the fact that they love each other and further elaborated: And of course, love is not just love. Love has to be accompanied by actions. So, I think there is an interaction from what we preach to what we do. Because what we do is what we are preaching, yes: love, hope.48

Material and social support are understood as ways to realize the preached Word. Thus, also activities qualified as non-spiritual from a secular perspective could have a spiritual dimension from the perspective of African Initiated Church leaders as they are seen as an expression of, for example, the Christian love for one’s neighbour. According to these statements there seems to be no conceptual division between religious and development activities. More explicitly, when asked about a possible separation of spiritual and social work of his church, Don Makumbani, leader of Covenant House Family Church in South Africa, explained: I see them as one, basically because as much as you are a spiritual leader, you live with people, you live among people. I do not see any divide there. For me being a spiritual person, being a pastor, you have to be socially relevant. That is what, you see, all that I am trying to outline to you. So basically, I see it as one.49

This view is also shared by George Afrifa, director of the Pentecost Social Services, the social service wing of the Church of Pentecost, one of the largest churches in Ghana. He points both to the work of Jesus and to the understanding of traditional African religions to highlight the need for a holistic development: When Jesus Christ preaches, after peaching, he feeds the people. […] So it means that it goes together. And then also if you come to African traditional religion, that is how it is, there is no difference between the sacred and the non-sacred. […] I have body, soul and spirit, my body’s need has to be met, my soul’s need has to be met as well as my spirit’s. […] It should be the holistic approach to development. When the development approach is holistic, you see that you teach the mind, the soul and the hand.50

 Interview with Daniel Okoh, Nigeria, 03 October 2017.  Interview with Holymike, South Africa, 07 March 2016. 48  Interview with Holymike, South Africa, 07 March 2016. 49  Interview with Don Makumbani, South Africa, 08 March 2016. 50  Interview with George Afrifa, Ghana, 19 September 2017. 46 47


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These findings seem to be in accordance with Narayan, who summarizes the results of large-scale participatory poverty assessments done by the World Bank around the turn of the century. One conclusion of this research is that notions of development among those that development cooperation is aimed at encompass more than just economic and material dimensions: Poor people’s definitions of well-being are holistic. The good life is seen as multidimensional, with both material and psychological dimensions. It includes a dependable livelihood, peace of mind, good health, and belonging to a community. It encompasses safety; freedom of choice and action; food; and care of family and spirit. It is life with dignity.51

This also resonates with Adogame’s understanding of “development from below”, which he uses to describe African Christianity’s contribution to development: Development from below is the type of development that, so far, sounds unimaginable to big-time development entrepreneurs such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund or some NGOs and scholars of development. Essentially, this is grassroots development that is associated with people’s lived experiences. This also has to do with people’s religious sensibilities, how religious bodies or persons imagine and engage in development. It also involves the religious or spiritual, moral and cultural dimensions that are inseparable from other spheres of society. Indigenous cosmologies are sophisticated systems for moral and cultural development, although they are now grossly neglected and ignored.52

It becomes clear that from the perspective of African Initiated Churches and the communities they are embedded in, it is vital to note that spirituality is an essential part of a good life and hence a fundamental dimension in development.

Notions of Development as Situated Knowledge Notions of development are context-dependent. The notions of development that are dominant in official international development policy and practice are rooted in predominantly Western/European discourses of knowledge. These discourses are marked by the “secular distinction”. A clear but artificial boundary is drawn between the secular and the religious. The category of knowledge (and of development as a sub-sphere of knowledge) is associated with the secular sphere. The secular distinction itself originated in and is contingent on the Western/European discourses about attributions of religion and knowledge—it is a form of situated knowledge, which is embedded in its discursive context.53 The notions of  Narayan (2001), p. 40.  Adogame (2016), pp. 2–3. 53  Feldtkeller points out that “‘secular’ discourses, as much as ‘religious’ discourses, are a specific form of pragmatically creating reality through language. From a discourse analytic perspective there is no reason to a priori consider religious language pragmatics inferior to secular ones” (Feldtkeller 2014, p. 122, authors’ translation). 51 52

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development evolving from this context and hence shaped by the secular distinction should also be seen as situated knowledge. The values referred to in the “valuesbased” development cooperation advocated by BMZ, hence, continue to be values contingent on a German discursive and political context. This is equally true for the mode of potential cooperation with religious actors, which seems to be secularized German Christianity. African Initiated Churches are embedded in a specific discursive, material and practical context. They are rooted in a world view in which the spiritual, social and physical spheres constitute various layers of the same reality.54 “[T]hey maintain a magico-religious worldview in sharp contrast to mainstream development’s rational secularism”,55 as Freeman notes. In this context, the secular distinction does not hold. In the same way that the dominant Western notion of development constitutes contextual knowledge contingent on a knowledge discourse marked by the secular distinction, views on development of African Initiated Churches constitute contextual knowledge contingent on a knowledge discourse that is not based on this distinction. Both views on development, development as a “secular” concept (as predominant in the international development discourse) and development including spiritual dimensions (as predominant in African Initiated Churches), constitute forms of situated knowledge. Both forms of knowledge need to be brought into conversation with each other. In particular, contextual knowledge such as the specific views on development by African Initiated Churches needs to be taken seriously if development is to be effective in a given context. To illustrate this with a very practical example, in an interview with one of the most prominent African Initiated Church leaders, Dr Rufus Okikiola Ositelu, Primate of The Church of the Lord (Aladura) Worldwide and Pope of the Aladura Communion Worldwide, we posed the question what the added value of a churchowned hospital was. Is it, after all, not most important that there are health services offered regardless of who offers them? With regard to a church-­owned hospital in Ogere, Nigeria, Ositelu responded that the added value is precisely in the spiritual dimension: The founder of our church said that both school medicine and spiritual prayer are interrelated. They are not to be separated. So if somebody has malaria, yes, let the person go to the hospital for treatment and then help the person also with prayer. Das ist [sic] spirituality. [...] One does not exclude the other, it’s both inclusive. [...] And most people even wanted a hospital in Ogere for example, they said [...] they can get the same service in another hospital, but the difference is, they don’t get prayer. And in our own hospital you get the service, medical service and prayer.56

This indicates that in the context African Initiated Churches are rooted in, people do not only expect medical treatment in a hospital, but also expect a pastor to come and  Freeman (2012); Gifford (2015); Masondo (2013); Oosthuizen (1988).  Freeman (2012), p. 9. 56  Interview with Rufus Okikiola Ositelu, Germany, 26 May 2017. 54 55


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pray for them. In many African contexts, healing and treatment are to some extent spiritual issues. This is not to say that spiritual healing is prioritized over medical treatment. Pastor Dr Sello Simon Rasemana, founder and senior pastor of Second Chance Word and Wisdom Ministries in South Africa, makes this very clear: “God does not prevent you from getting a pill, no, He doesn’t”.57 However, in a world view that reckons with spiritual forces, it is of vital importance to also recognize the spiritual needs of the people to cater for them. Only religious communities can do so. This has direct practical consequences for development cooperation if it seeks to be relevant in the local context: should the construction of a hospital include a chapel? Should a hospital pastor and counsellor be financed with development funds? Going back somewhat further in the history of German development cooperation, the controversy around the construction of a Christian college in the Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (ECMY) in Ethiopia provides another illustrative example of a clash between Western contextual notions of development and those of an Ethiopian (Lutheran) church, as Günther and Deressa describe.58 The ECMY was constructing a college with financial support from German Protestant development organizations. A conflict emerged when the German church donors refused to finance the construction of a chapel (as long as it was identifiable as such by a cross) and suggested framing it as a cinema instead. The controversy sparked substantial criticism of the German church donors by the ECMY, in the course of which ECMY formulated its view on the relationship of religion and development in its 1972 policy paper “On the relationship between proclamation of the Gospel and Human Development”.59 It fundamentally opposed a separation between spiritual and development-related activities, arguing that such separation was a Western one and stood against African and Christian views on humanity: “From the African point of view, it is hard to understand this dichotomy [between development and proclamation of faith] created in the West and reflected in their criteria for assistance laid down by the Donor Agencies.” Only “integral human development, where spiritual and material needs are seen together” was considered the right path to societal development— even in “developed” societies.60 Moreover, the document fundamentally asserted that the people themselves must be agents of their development processes and that churches, which are rooted in the communities, are well-placed to enable such agency. This illustrates a fundamental clash between Western (in this case, German) notions of development operating on the basis of the secular distinction and African (in this case, Ethiopian) notions that do not make this distinction. The

 Interview with Sello Simon Rasemana, South Africa, 03 March 2016.  Günther (1993); Deressa (undated). 59  Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (1972). 60  Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (1972); cf. Günther (1993). 57 58

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clash epitomizes the different discursive contexts and highlights the situatedness of notions of development as forms of situated knowledge. Significantly, on both sides of the dispute were churches of the same confession—ECMY as a Lutheran church in Ethiopia and Lutheran churches as funders of the protestant development organizations in Germany. Hence, the different view on human development was not rooted in doctrinal differences. Moreover, the example illustrates that the notions of development by African Initiated Churches outlined above are not necessarily specific to these churches but are likely to be shared at least by other churches that are embedded in similar cultural and discursive contexts.61 We conjecture that this even extends to other religious communities.

Engaging with Values and Beliefs in Development Cooperation Thomsen introduces a “Pyramid of challenges and barriers to rights fulfilment”62 (cf. Fig. 1). The different layers represent different levels at which change is aimed for by development cooperation.63 He points out that “up to now development actors have engaged mainly with the two top levels of the pyramid (‘policies’ and ‘practices’) and often avoided engaging with the bottom level of ‘ideas’ and ‘beliefs’— even though this bottom level is one of the most important levels for sustainable change”.64 Thomsen argues that it is precisely at the bottom of the pyramid, at the cultural foundations of society, that religious communities play a role. They have direct access to these foundations and contribute to shaping them. That is where, in Thomsen’s view, lies the added value of partnering with religious communities for sustainable development: The contribution of religion and religious actors to societal change and development goes far beyond the traditional acclaim that FBOs run high quality clinics and schools and are present in the remotest corners. While all that is true, it is still merely a sociological observation. It must be supplemented with the content and identity aspects of religion’s role in development.65

 The Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (1972) document makes a similar point.  Thomsen (2017), p. 28. 63  This graphical representation is schematic and does not account for the complex, correlative entanglements of beliefs, values, ideas, practices and policies of the religion and development nexus. It is also itself an expression of a functional approach to religion, asking for the optimal level of engagement with religious communities to the end of achieving—the secular concept of—sustainable development. Nonetheless it is indicative of the approach in official international development politics and brings to the fore the inherent contradiction in any approaches seeking to engage with religious communities on an ideological level on the basis of the secular distinction. 64  Thomsen (2017), p. 28. 65  Thomsen (2017), p. 29. 61 62


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Fig. 1  Pyramid of challenges and barriers to rights fulfilment (Source: Thomsen 2017)

This is recognized by BMZ’s strategy on religion as well: Cooperation with religious communities offers a lot of potential […] Religion is a key source of values. It provides guidance with regard to ethical and legal norms. […] Religion can strengthen the resilience of individuals and entire societies because it offers explanations and rituals that help people deal with loss, suffering, failure and disaster. […] Religious convictions are a major source of motivation for many people to work for comprehensive, sustainable development.66

However, in many contexts the bottom level of the triangle—the ideological dimension of beliefs, values and ideas—is inextricably intertwined with spirituality in manifold ways. To a large extent it is the spiritual dimension. If development cooperation wants to build on the potential of this dimension and realize the added value of partnering with religious communities as a “key source of values”67 by tapping into the value layer of society, it must make reference to spirituality. Otherwise no engagement is possible at the bottom level of the triangle. Thomsen outlines the fundamental challenge in this, from his perspective as Senior Advisor for International Ecumenical Cooperation and Religion & Development at DanChurchAid, a European religious development organization: But do international partners also see them [religious actors] as they see themselves— that is, with a spirituality of inclusion, with liturgies to comfort and build self-esteem and hope and with strong fellowships to nurture action and resilience? Do outside partners really respect them as partners, or just as convenient instruments? Are we willing to include in our thinking, intervention, and financing also these elements of their reality and activity?68

 Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (2016b), p. 7.  Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (2016b), p. 7. 68  Thomsen (2017), p. 31. 66 67

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Conclusion Development policy and research increasingly recognizes the potential contribution of religious communities for sustainable development. Partnering with religious communities and acknowledging their manifold roles as development actors can contribute substantial added value to development policy. Because of their rootedness in the cultural foundations of society, religious communities can have a high “transformative capacity”, as coined by Eisenstadt as “the capacity to legitimize, in religious or ideological terms, the development of new motivations, activities, and institutions”.69 To achieve sustainable development, it is precisely this capacity to shift dominant paradigms which is required. Such transformative potential exists in African Initiated Churches. Without doubt, these churches offer great potential to international development cooperation, as shown inter alia by Freeman, Öhlmann, Frost and Gräb, and Turner.70 At the same time, however, they fundamentally challenge dominant Western notions of development. Notions of development in African Initiated Churches are intertwined with spirituality. This stands in stark contrast to the dominant perspective of development originating from a western, secularized knowledge discourse marked by a conceptual separation between the development and spirituality, as exemplified above with the case of German official development policy. The “secular distinction” does not exist in the world view of many African Initiated Churches and the contexts they are embedded in. While the understandings of development differ, this is not to say that religious communities refute the sustainable development agenda. On the contrary, African Initiated Church leaders are widely supportive of the SDGs, illustrated by frequent statements such as “all of them are very important” when the seventeen different goals were discussed. This common ground is already an excellent precondition for fruitful cooperation. Differing notions of development, particularly the question of whether religious dimensions are part of development, do not necessarily mean that there is no possibility of collaboration. While most church leaders interviewed in South Africa, Ghana or Nigeria were sceptical to a possible separation of (explicitly) spiritual and material or social support and underlined their interrelatedness and the importance to provide both, many interviewees also mentioned that they would not necessarily have to take place at the same time. Many churches already use their wide networks to offer for example health-­related services or training opportunities also to non-members or members of other religions. Not every development project needs to contain components such as praying or preaching, which would be qualified as being spiritual from the secular perspective. Coming back to Thomsen’s quote, even though he advocates for a deeper level of engagement, he points to the fact that religious communities do “run high quality clinics and schools and are present in the remotest corners”.71 At an institutional level, such activities could be entry points for development cooperation. However, without  Eisenstadt (1968), p. 10.  Freeman (2012); Öhlmann et al. (2016a); Turner (1980). 71  Thomsen (2017), p. 29. 69 70


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referring to values and beliefs, any engagement will remain constrained to activities and practices. To fully realize the added value of religion for sustainable development, development policy must engage with religious communities at a deeper level. If engagements between official development cooperation and religious communities are to be more than a functional relationship at the institutional level, and especially if development policy wants to engage with religious communities at the level of values and beliefs (in a “values-based” way, as BMZ’s publications stipulate), the various entanglements of beliefs, values, ideas, practices and policies must be acknowledged. Moreover, a central concern of the church leaders is to be respected in their religious identity.72 For development cooperation to be at eye level it is fundamental to respect this identity and to recognize the agency of religious partner organizations. This means taking their understanding of development seriously and acknowledging it as a legitimate objective of the development process. There are many instances when the inclusion of the spiritual dimension has an added value for development policy that cannot be realized without it. In order to produce lasting change in people’s motivations and values—the foundation of Thomsen’s pyramid of challenges and barriers—the religious dimension must be part of the equation. This means questioning the dominant secular notions of development, particularly in many contexts of the global South, where forms of lived religion are much more explicit and intertwined with the material, social and cultural dimensions of people’s lives.

References Adogame, Afe. 2016. African Christianities and the politics of development from below. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 72 (4). Beck, Sedefka V., and Sara J. Gundersen. 2016. A gospel of prosperity? An analysis of the relationship between religion and earned income in Ghana, the most religious country in the world. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 55 (1): 105–129. Ver Beek, Kurt A. 2000. Spirituality: A development taboo. Development in Practice 10 (1): 31–43. Beimdiek, Friedrich-Wilhelm, Dirk Messner, Wolfram Stierle, and Jürgen Zattler. 2018. Entwicklungspolitik. In Staatslexikon: Recht, wirtschaft, gesellschaft in 5 bänden, ed. Heinrich Oberreuter, vol. 2, 8th ed., 2025–2042. Freiburg: Herder. Belshaw, Deryke, Robert Calderisi, and Chris Sugden. 2001. Faith in development: Partnership between the World Bank and the churches of Africa. Oxford: Regnum Books International. Bompani, Barbara. 2010. Religion and development from below: Independent christianity in South Africa. Journal of Religion in Africa 40 (3): 307–330. 3/157006610X525435. ———. 2015. Religion and development in sub-saharan Africa: An overview. In The Routledge handbook of religions and global development, ed. Emma Tomalin, 101–113. London: Routledge.


 Frost et al. (2018).

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Bowers-Du Toit, Nadine. 2016. The elephant in the room: The need to re-discover the intersection between poverty, powerlessness and power in ‘theology and development’ praxis. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 72 (4): Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung. 2015a. The role of religion in German development policy. Bonn/Berlin: Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung. ———. 2015b. Verfahren der Förderung entwicklungswichtiger Vorhaben der Kirchen in Entwicklungsländern aus Bundesmitteln vom 17.11.1983  in der Fassung vom 01.01.2015. Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung. ———. 2016a. Religious communities as partners for development cooperation: Strategy paper. Bonn/Berlin: Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung. ———. 2016b. Religious communities as partners for development cooperation (Extended and illustrated version). Bonn/Berlin: Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung. ———. 2016c. Voices from religions on sustainable development. Bonn/Berlin: Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung. ———. 2017a. Africa and Europe  - A new partnership for development, peace and a better future: Cornerstones of a Marshall Plan with Africa. Bonn/Berlin: Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung. ———. 2017b. Tom Wlaschiha: Religion und Entwicklungszusammenarbeit. Retrieved 21 June, 2018, from Deneulin, Séverine, and Masooda Bano. 2009. Religion in development: Rewriting the secular script. London: Zed. Deressa, Yonas. undated. Introduction. In Ministry to the whole person. Documents of the Rev. Gudina Tumsa and the Mekane Yesus Church from the pre-revolutionary period 1971–1973. Volume II. Addis Ababa: Gudina Tumsa Foundation, 36–37. Eckert, Andreas. 2015. Geschichte der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit. Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 65: 3–8. ECMY. 1972. On the interrelation between proclamation of the gospel and human development. In Ministry to the whole person. Documents of the Rev. Gudina Tumsa and the Mekane Yesus Church from the pre-revolutionary period 1971–1973. Volume II. Addis Ababa: Gudina Tumsa Foundation, 37–45. Eisenstadt, Shmuel N. 1968. The protestant ethic thesis in an analytical and comparative framework. In The protestant ethic and modernization: A comparative view, ed. Shmuel N.  Eisenstadt, 3–45. New York/London: Basic Books. Feldtkeller, Andreas. 2014. Umstrittene Religionswissenschaft: Für eine Neuvermessung ihrer Beziehung zur Säkularisierungstheorie. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt. Ferris, Elizabeth. 2011. Faith and humanitarianism: It’s complicated. Journal of Refugee Studies 24 (3): 606–625. Freeman, Dena. 2012. The pentecostal ethic and the spirit of development. In Pentecostalism and development: Churches, NGOs and social change in Africa. Non-governmental public action, ed. Dena Freeman, 1–38. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Frost, Marie-Luise, Philipp Öhlmann, and Wilhelm Gräb. 2018. Avoiding ‘white elephants’ – fruitful development cooperation from the perspective of African Initiated Churches in South Africa and beyond. In The changing faces of African Pentecostalism, ed. Babatunde Adedibu and Benson Igboin, 103–118. Akungba-Akoko: Adekunle Ajasin University Press. Garling, Stephanie. 2013. Vom Störfaktor zum Operator: Religion im Diskurs der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit. Wiesbaden: Springer. Gifford, Paul. 1994. Some recent developments in African Christianity. African Affairs 93 (373): 513–534. ———. 2015. Christianity, development and modernity in Africa. London: Hurst. Gräb, Wilhelm. 2016. Lebenssinndeutung als Aufgabe der Theologie. Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 113 (4): 366–383.


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Günther, Wolfgang. 1993. Evangelische Mekane-Jesus-Kirche in Äthiopien. Über die Wechselbeziehung zscihen der Verkündigung des Evangeliums und der menschlichen Entwicklung. In Mission erklärt: Ökumenische Dokumente von 1972 bis 1992, ed. Joachim Wietzke, 231–243. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt. Haynes, Jeffrey. 2009. Religion and democratization: An introduction. Democratization 16: 1041–1057. Heuser, Andreas. 2015. Religio-scapes of prosperity gospel: An introduction. In Pastures of plenty: Tracing religio-scapes of prosperity gospel in Africa and Beyond, ed. Andreas Heuser, 15–29. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. Holenstein, Anne-Marie. 2010. Religionen - Potential oder Gefahr? Religion und Spiritualität in Theorie und Praxis der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit. Wien: Lit. Jones, Ben, and Marie J.  Petersen. 2011. Instrumental, narrow, normative? Reviewing recent work on religion and development. Third World Quarterly 32 (7): 1291–1306. https://doi. org/10.1080/01436597.2011.596747. Kaag, Mayke, and Saint-Lary, Maud. 2011. The new visibility of religion in the development Arena. Bulletin de l'APAD 33. Lloyd, Vincent W., and Ludger Viefhues-Bailey. 2015. Introduction. Critical Research on Religion 3 (1): 13–24. Lunn, Jenny. 2009. The role of religion, spirituality and faith in development: A critical theory approach. Third World Quarterly 30 (5): 937–951. https://doi. org/10.1080/01436590902959180. Masondo, Sibusiso. 2013. The crisis model for managing change in African Christianity: The story of St John’s apostolic church. Exchange 42 (2): 157–174. 3/1572543X-12341262. Masuzawa, Tomoko. 2005. The invention of world religions. Or, how European universalism was preserved in the language of pluralism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Mtata, Kenneth, ed. 2013. Religion: Help or hindrance to development? Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt. Narayan, Deepa. 2001. Voices of the poor. In Faith in development: Partnership between the World Bank and the churches of Africa, ed. Deryke Belshaw, Robert Calderisi, and Chris Sugden, 39–48. Irvine: Regnum Books International. Öhlmann, Philipp, Marie-Luise Frost, and Wilhelm Gräb. 2016a. African Initiated Churches’ potential as development actors. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 72 (4). https:// ———. 2017. African Initiated Churches and sustainable development in South Africa – potentials and perspectives: Religion and development discussion paper 01/2017. Berlin: HumboldtUniversität zu Berlin. Öhlmann, Philipp, Marie-Luise Frost, Wilhelm Gräb, and Rolf Schieder. 2016b. Sind African Initiated Churches geeignete Partner für zukünftige Entwicklungszusammenarbeit? Wissenschaftliches Gutachten im Auftrag des Bundesministeriums für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung. Berlin: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Öhlmann, Philipp, and Silke Hüttel. 2018. Religiosity and household income in Sekhukhune. Development Southern Africa 36: 1–15. Oosthuizen, Gerhardus C. 1988. Interpretation of demonic powers in Southern African independent churches. Missiology 16 (1): 3–22. Steinke, Andrea. 2020. Faith and professionalism in humanitarian encounters in post-­earthquake Haiti. In this volume, pp. 100–118. Swart, Ignatius, and Elsabé Nell. 2016. Religion and development: The rise of a bibliography. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 72 (4). Thomsen, Jørgen. 2017. The sustainable development goals as space and sparring partner for religious actors in development. Ny Mission 32: 25–33. Turner, Harold W. 1980. African independent churches and economic development. World Development 8 (7-8): 523–533.

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United Nations. 2015. Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development. New York: United Nations. Ziai, Aram. 2016. Development discourse and global history. From colonialism to the sustainable development goals. London/New York: Routledge.

List of Interviews Interview with a church leader, 2017/N/14, Nigeria, 07.10.2017 Interview with Daniel Okoh, Nigeria, 03.10.2017 Interview with Don Makumbani, South Africa, 08.03.2016 Interview with Elias Mashabela, South Africa, 04.03.2016 Interview with Elijah Daramola, South Africa, 16.02.2016 Interview with George Afrifa, Ghana, 19.09.2017 Interview with Holymike, South Africa, 07.03.2016 Interview with Rufus Okikiola Ositelu, Germany, 26.05.2017 Interview with Sello Simon Rasemana, South Africa, 03.03.2016

Part III

Theological and Religious Knowledge Production: Overcoming the Dichotomy Between Inside and Outside Perspective(s) on Religion

Beyond the Insider—Outsider Perspective: The Study of Religion as a Study of Discourse Construction Gerhard van den Heever

Abstract  This essay reflects on contemporary theorizing of religion which embodies an explicit critique of the imperial project, seeing that by most common consent the scholarly disciplinary field of religious studies (history of religion, phenomenology of religion, Religionswissenschaft) is a late nineteenth century invention that coincides with the emergence of anthropology and ethnography as epiphenomena of the colonial project (whether as Orientalism or as exoticism the Other is rendered manageable subjects). The scholarly study of religion is, therefore, simultaneously a study of the history of theory and concept formation, and the social, cultural, and political work performed by such study and theorizing. The metatheory of the study of religion is a main focus of the essay. Alongside that, the essay focuses more pointedly on the concept of discourse, and considers the extraordinary situation where the same methodological vocabulary that functions in religious studies also functions in critical theological studies, which relativizes the division of ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ perspectives. Yet both are conventionally practised either in isolation from each other as distinct theoretical and disciplinary bounded/defined study fields, or—the other and almost direct opposite—religious studies being performed in the context of theological study, situated in and offered by theological faculties. An overview of recent debates in the field of religious studies serves to highlight the continued struggle to demarcate the boundaries between the study of religion and the study of theology—in some of the recent, very strident debates mainstream religious studies is labelled as nothing more than theology. This contribution, then, aims at a kind of metatheoretical reflection on the study of religion and theology both as discourses that serve mythmaking, identity formation, culturally strategic purposes. That is, from the discourse perspective that is proposed here, it is possible to move beyond the definitional divide between religious studies and theology— even beyond ‘religion’ itself—to focus on the mundanely material practices that constitute that which is called religion. In the way in which the terms are used it is

G. van den Heever (*) University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 J. Hensold et al. (eds.), Religion in Motion,



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clear that the terminologies themselves bear the imprint of historical social discourses that occasioned the rise of their use. This essay, then, is something of a metacritique of the language of the study of religion—beyond religion, and beyond the study of religion and theology.

Introduction The rich tapestry of discourse that is theorizing religion has in recent years bifurcated into two main oppositional discourses and scholarly position-taking that can be conveniently summed up in the following shorthand phrases of insider–outsider problematics in the study of religion, and the phenomenology of religion versus Foucaultian critical discourse analysis. Tangentially related to these, but nevertheless an implied associated core thematic in the debate inflecting the broadly opposing theoretical discourses on religion and the study of religion, are issues regarding the purpose of university education and scholarship (and higher levels of schooling in cogitation and intellection in the humanities in general), the sociology of knowledge, and the political nature of scholarship (the meaning of activist scholarship or organic intellectuals and its ideological commitments) as the field domains in which this position-taking is playing out. While the issue I am aiming to illuminate has been around since the founding of what came to be called the science of religion (Religionswissenschaft),1 the last number of years have seen the rise of a particularly strident tone in the differentiation of viewpoints and imaginings of academic purposes and the value of commitments between, say, a representative large section of scholars across various programme units of the American Academy of Religion (AAR; and its sister organization, the Society of Biblical Literature, SBL) vis-à-vis positions characteristic of the majority of the membership of the North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR). It goes without saying, but perhaps bears repeating here, that because the membership of these organizations is not limited to scholars from North America and Europe, the type of debates raging in these scholarly circles do obtain a paradigmatic character such that these bifurcated discourses are useful to think with in other contexts as well.

1  The rise of the study of religion as a scientific discipline in the later nineteenth century also stood in oppositional contrast vis-à-vis mainstream Christian cultural and theological self-definition; the search for a transcendental, transcultural and transethnic “religious world view and ethic” had as its core value the relativizing of Christian theological world views in favour of a view of religion as the object of study as well as a human practice, as one of a category of human transcendentals, that is, in its decontextualized and departicularized version a shared essential feature of human existence across all possible divisions between humans, whether these are cutural, social, class or ethnic.

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Starting with a Case Study The kinds of debates referred to above have been documented well in the literature on the study of religion and I will not rehearse the literary history of the debates, apart from citing some relevant pointers to latch my reflection on to. The scholarly conflicts centre on attitudes towards the study of religion that sees scholarship as a kind of extension of religious values and religious behaviour, and therefore inflected by religious commitments. This raises, further, the wider question of the positional relationship that should obtain between the scholar of religion and the people, their practices and their traditions that s/he studies—a matter I will return to below. This question also relates to the way in which the purpose of scholarship and academic work, including the purpose of religious studies as well as the social and moral value of the study of religion, is conceived.

The Purpose of Scholarship on Religion The general tenor of academic discourse across the majority of programme units of the AAR (I would argue, and there is a substantial body of criticism existing on this) is perceived to be a theological current running through the practice and definition of academic study on religion in the AAR.2 A very recent case in point is the published 2014 AAR presidential address by Laurie Zoloth.3 Zoloth, a bioethicist, drew on the challenges posed by catastrophic climate change to argue for scholarly activism in the face of the coming crisis as a moral imperative in order to advocate in our scholarly work as well as to practice the interruption of the continued exploitative devastation wrought on nature by our capitalist lifestyles. For Zoloth, scholarship stands as an extension of the religious visions of the literature and practices scholars of religion study. Hence the following injunctions to the scholarly audience: Third we must think and then teach as scholars of religion. For does not the question of the other, the one has not arrived in a lucky place, emerge from our own scholarship? Is not that the point of knowing that the stranger, widow, and orphan are at the door, that the mendicant needs alms, that the land needs a year of release? We must live as if ready, say the texts we teach, we must live as if we were chosen to uphold the Law, to be the persons who come in love, who ask even about the city of Sodom. … Letting the danger, the power, and the endless mercy of religion be excellently told is the task of the scholar of religion. To teach religion excellently is to engage in “the public examination of things,” the task of the scholar since Socrates spoke truth to his Academy, notes Arendt, “which doubtless spread uncertainty about established customs and beliefs.” And our teaching, if it is actually parrhesia, should raise the questions that will doubtless interrupt the usual way of things, which in our Academy would mean disruption of the institutions that govern us in the 2  The AAR and its sister organization, the SBL, both originated from confessional bodies aimed at promoting Christian faith in the context of the educational system in the USA, cf. Smith (2000), pp. 87–93. 3  Zoloth (2016), pp. 1–22,


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absence of a vivid, democratic, civil participation. Finally, we have a duty as scholars that emerges from the blunt fact that in scriptural texts we think important, the point is made over and over again: your moral activities can affect the rain, the harvest, and the health of everything you love. The link between moral choices and material outcomes is made continually, and it is received and studied toward normative action. The texts suggest the interruption of desire, of consumption, and of acquisition. They link that interruption to the order of the natural world, of harvest time and planting. Our scholarly behavior is a part of this, for unless we see the world of the charcoal burner, our work will be lacking. [my emphasis] … We must be interrupted; we must stop. To make the future possible, we need to stop what we are doing, what we are making, what we are consuming, what we think we need, what makes us comfortable. We need to interrupt our work—even our good work—to attend to the urgency of this question.4 As scholars who read the texts that show how a human life might be lived in view of God, we are used to disbelief and used to the idea that religion is trivial or naïve, or simply unrealistic. All we have is words—we have no armies, only students and colleagues. All we can do is teach—to act as moral agents, to live out our work. We make a living by struggling to understand the truth of the world, speaking parrhesia. And here it is important to note that we like hard inquiry, and we believe in skepticism—but we do not believe in ignorance and we do not support the denial of data. We are teachers. We live in a time, we teach at a time, when religions are in center stage of history, have marched into the center stage and, in the center of the stage, enact and speak…. We must stop, and we must start— to support the peacemakers and the climate protectors, the life sustainers. … I wanted to be a president who took seriously the prophetic duty of my field, bioethics, to warn, to speak of the possibility of our power and our responsibility, and who interrupted you and told you to let the call of the stranger stop you in your tracks and the brokenness of the earth call you to action.5

In a follow-up response to this presidential address on the online AAR newsletter, Mary L.  Keller not only supported the call for moral commitment from the past president of the AAR, but also added a more urgent tone to the deliberation in her call for an eco-currency as a measure of human consumption of natural resources.6 The main point that I wish to highlight is the fact that she self-identifies as an “applied historian of religion”—a term which, in the context of the article—must be taken to mean something akin to Gramsci’s “organic intellectual”, i.e., a scholar-­ activist who identifies with the moral call of climate activism, that is, who sees a direct advocacy role for the scholar: How can research communities respond so slowly to the catastrophe at hand? How can we either maintain our ignorance or pretend that the theology of interruption described by Zoloth is simply not on? … the adults are abdicating their moral responsibility and leaving the mortal fight to their children.

The post on the RSN page was reposted on Facebook by Russell McCutcheon, which ensued in a chain of posts as to what an “applied historian of religion” can be. Our conclusion amounted to that it signifies an engaged, committed, but essentially a theological scholarship in the guise of religious studies. In fact, when one follows  Zoloth (2016), p. 13.  Zoloth (2016), pp. 20–24. 6  Keller (2016), 4 5

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up the biography of Laurie Zoloth, it is quite clear this is the case. Zoloth was Director of the Program in Jewish Studies at San Francisco State University, before moving to the chairs of Religious Studies, Bioethics and Medical Humanities at Northwestern University. In this context, it is noteworthy that she is a member of the Society for Scriptural Reasoning, which shows in her presidential address. Drawing on Hebrew scriptures and rabbinic sources, she advocates a position that constructs scholarship as an extension of the scriptural vision encoded in the corpus of religious literature.

I magining Scholarship on Religion: Contests on “Phenomenology” In two recent issues of the flagship journal of the American Academy of Religion, the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the issue of the normativity of scriptural reasoning was addressed with specific reference to recent issues regarding Hindu and Islamic traditions. The Journal of the American Academy of Religion 84, no. 1 (2016) included a “Roundtable on Normativity in Islamic Studies” which addressed issues relating to the role of the Qur’an in Islamic identity formation in contexts of modernity vs. tradition, while JAAR 84, no. 2 (2016) included a “Roundtable in Outrage, Scholarship, and the Law in India” which addressed the now famous depublishing in India by Oxford University Press of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus on grounds that it misrepresents Hindu religious traditions and constituted an example of Western colonial devaluation of indigenous traditions, an orientalist miscasting of the Other out of disdain for the dignity of the indigenous tradents. The issues at stake in especially JAAR 84, no. 2, on Hinduism, are neatly summed up by Paul Courtright who, participating in a debate on scholarly agency in JAAR, responds to Russell McCutcheon’s rejoinder (and here following the trend set by the éminence grise of religious studies, Jonathan Z. Smith) that in choosing to narrate certain data and perspectives, thus emphasizing this or that particular perspective to the exclusion of others, is essentially constructing (this or that) religion—hence the famous statement of Smith that “there is no data for religion. Religion is solely the creation of the scholar’s study”—that the scholarly representation of a religious Other is essentially a kind of writing of fiction.7 As Courtright puts it: how do we do our work when some of the Others say, “you got it right, that’s what I mean,” or, “I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but, yes, that makes sense,” whereas other Others say, “your interpretation is offensive to me, and to all Hindus. Your book should be banned”? The argument goes to the question of agency: the agencies of the others, and our own agency as scholars. It is easier, perhaps, when the context is face-to-face: just us sitting around the kitchen table. The other speaks, another Other tells it differently, the scholar 7  Courtright (2006), pp.  751–54. The citation of Jonathan Z.  Smith is from the “Introduction”, Smith (1982), p. xi.


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transmits all this to her reader. But, even here, as McCutcheon rightly notes, some interpretation is inevitable. The scholar is doing the writing, and even with a direct quote of the other, there is still the matter of context, description, framing—choices.

What Courtright enunciates is a typical problem of that approach to the study of religion called phenomenology. Basically, and this is a gross simplification of a much larger academic conversation, a phenomenological approach implies a sympathetic (perhaps even empathetic) representation of a religious tradition in all its facets, a suspension of suspicion such that what is represented as the insider viewpoint is taken to be the real essence of the religious tradition or practice—the scholar-observer becomes in this view a participant-observer-caretaker. And thus, by extension, it also implied the wider question of who is allowed to speak on and on behalf of religious traditions. The set of conceptual and scholarly problems that come to the fore in these debates hinges on the stances taken to the insider–outsider debate in the definition and representations of religion/religious traditions. These debates have been lively and at times acrimonious, and while very densely documented over a long period, just in the last few years the debate has been shaped primarily by an exchange between Russell T. McCutcheon and Robert Orsi, as well as other conversation partners chipping in.8 The critical stance to religion, religious traditions, the practitioners and their insider viewpoints espoused by someone like Russell McCutcheon can be traced back to, or be said to be inspired by, Jonathan Z. Smith’s conception of theorizing religion as a metaphoric process whereby creative juxtapositions give rise to new ways of conceiving of religious phenomena. This is a procedure most classically spelled out in his short essay, “Bible and Religion”.9 In this view theorizing religion proceeds in a fourfold procedure, namely description (as thick a description as possible); comparison (as widely as possible); redescription (in terms of conceptual frames alien to the initial approach to the phenomenon theorized); and rectification of categories (translation of the phenomenon analyzed and explained into a container set of categories, the classificatory operation of which causes the phenomenon to be named and identified differently according to the explanatory purposes of the scholar). An approach like this does not necessitate that insiders to a religious tradition recognize themselves in your analysis and interpretation/explanation, and furthermore, there is no conjunction that only insiders may speak to and on behalf of the religious tradition concerned. The kind of theorizing intended in this ­procedure

8  McCutcheon: McCutcheon (1998), pp. 51–72; McCutcheon (2006), pp. 720–50; Martin (2000), pp. 95–97; McCutcheon (2001, 2003a, b, 2014a, b); Arnal and McCutcheon (2012). Issues in the debate from this perspective are now conveniently summarized in the Festschrift for Don Wiebe, who pursued a career in arguing for the difference between the study of religion and theology— and for keeping these apart: Arnal et al. (2014). Robert Orsi and some voices responding to McCutcheon from an Orsian perspective: Orsi (2006); Orsi (2016); Orsi (2012); Griffiths (1998), pp.  893–896; Roberts (2006), pp.  697–719; Omer (2011), pp.  459–96; Blum (2012), pp.  1025–1048; Dunn (2016), pp.  881–902; Lybarger (2016), pp. 127–156. 9  Smith (2000).

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is one that is conceptually best at home in the humanities, and in which religion is analysed, explained and theorized as a human phenomenon by means of theories derived from a wide array of the human and social sciences. Hence the propensity in project groups like Culture on the Edge to explain insider concepts like faith, or belief, as of religion in its various operations, as strategies of identity-making, of authority construction, of social formation, of invention of tradition, and so on. The clarion call that rises above all this is the classic formulation of Fredric Jameson, namely to “Always historicize!”10 (I will shortly draw some conclusions regarding the conceptual operation of historicizing.) Over against his strong insistence on historicizing religion, and its manifestation as tradition,11 one finds the broad stream of phenomenology of religion in its various scholarly manifestations. The academic study of religion as a science had its beginnings in the second half of the nineteenth century exactly as phenomenology of religion, the origins of which subsisted in broader cultural-critical and countercultural shifts in European and North American societies—the development of phenomenology of religion was implicated in the late Victorian development of a universalist outlook on the world.12 More broadly, and this is conceded by Robert Orsi, the long development of the concept of religion as something in itself, as a sui generis phenomenon, was the result of European colonial expansion and projection of European hegemony over the world.13 This construction of religion as a category of social definition is, of course, picked up and highlighted by the scholars in the Smith/McCutcheon ambit, but this aspect of the study of religion is not my focus here. This long history notwithstanding, phenomenology of religion is mostly seen in the light of Orsi’s characterization of the study of religion: Rather, it is to emphasize that religious theorizing at its best tracks back and forth from lived contexts in the present and the past to the issues and questions of contemporary moment in the academic study of religion, and then back again, allowing each—the empirical and the theoretical—to inform, question, and illuminate the other. The insistence on this intellectual and existential movement between practice and theory permits the men and women we study to contest and resist what we scholars of religion make of them in theory. This is both an epistemological assumption and an ethical position. Religious theorizing is not done upon men and women, as if they were specimens in the natural sciences, but in relationship to them. It is done alongside them too, as they struggle to understand t­ hemselves  Jameson (1981).  On historicizing religious traditions, see Engler and Grieve (2005); Grieve and Weiss (2005), pp. 1–15; Lewis and Hammer (2007). 12  Masuzawa (2005). 13  Smith (1998), pp. 269–84. For a more extended exposition of the imperial nature of the definition of religion, see Horsley (2003). Horsley’s Religion and Empire was the result of a roundtable panel presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, the papers of which were subsequently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. See also the now blooming industry of studies exploring the making of religions in the course of the colonial project, Pennington (2005); Gottschalk (2012). For the South African context, see the work of David Chidester on how the British colonial government of the Cape of Good Hope classified the “religion” of the indigenous peoples encountered in the Border area of the colony for the purposes of governmentality: Chidester (1996); Chidester (2014). 10 11


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and their worlds in the available light of their times. This is one reason that the insider/ outsider question—whether a religious world is best (or only) understood by a practitioner of it or by a scholar with no affiliation to it—is so beside the point. All humans are always insiders and outsiders to their worlds, which is what makes research in the humanities and social sciences possible. Another objective of the volume is to resist the utter unraveling or rejection of key concepts in the study of religion. The point is taken that religion and religions are always to be understood in their local and particular coordinates.14

Later Orsi goes on to say, “Religious theorizing is not done upon men and women, as if they were specimens in the natural sciences, but in relationship to them. It is done alongside them too, as they struggle to understand themselves and their worlds in the available light of their times.” In this he takes up an earlier statement, namely that it is incumbent on scholars of religion to take seriously the real-world concerns and investments of religious people and, through scholarship, assist in these life struggles.15 Therefore, here is the big question: how does one represent the insider concerns and perspectives sympathetically/empathetically, if this is what is called for, namely to stand in solidarity with the concerns and life struggles of the people we study? In other words, how close should we stand to our data, in which positional relationship? In recent rethinking of what is involved, or at stake, in the study of religion it has been maintained—especially in the circles where critical theory of religion is promoted—that what is required as a normal procedure of theorizing religion is the mapping of theory on to data. This procedure was eloquently formulated by Jonathan Z.  Smith by means of two parables from the oeuvre of Jorge Luis Borges, “On Exactitude in Science” and “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”. The first is an allegory about a map without distortion, a “map with absolute congruency to its subject matter, and, hence, a map that is both absolutely useless to second-order intellection, as well as for finding one’s way around”.16  Orsi (2012), p. 11.  Orsi (2012), p. 9. 16  Smith (2000), p. 90. The dual play on first-order and second-order intellection, or, as it is phrased in the context of this discussion: the interplay between “map” and “territory”, is foundational to the argument pursued here. On the one hand, the scholar of religion is engaged in a second-order reflection on religious phenomena of various types. The scholar is reconfiguring, redescribing, comparing and rectifying categories, often in terms and categories with which the “insider” to that religious tradition would not necessarily agree. It is true that the scholar of religion represents the concepts, beliefs and judgements that together inform and make up the subject’s identification of his or her experience, but “at the level of explanation, in my sort or language at the level of redescription, the scholar offers ‘an explanation of an experience in terms that are not those of the subject and might not meet with his approval. This is perfectly justifiable and is, in fact, normal procedure’”, Proudfoot (1985) as cited by Smith 2000, p. 90. The scholarly procedure of mapping data in accordance with theory, what Jonathan Z. Smith calls the “comparative enterprise”, that is the fourfold procedure of description, classification, comparison and explanation (Smith (2000), p. 87) or “the four moments in the comparative enterprise”—description, comparison, redescription and rectification of categories (Smith (2000), p. 87; Mack (1996), pp. 256–259, a discussion of Smith’s theoretical position), denies the possibility of the student of religious phenomena merely repeating or paraphrasing the subjects under scrutiny. Much of religious scholarship is characterized by an unwillingness to seriously engage in considerations of theory of religion. At 14 15

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Two Parables: Maps, Territories, and Rewritten Texts In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, these Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographer’s Guild struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point by point with it. The following generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography, as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all of the Land there is no other Relic of the Discipline of Geography.17

The second parable or allegory also derives from a short story of Jorge Luis Borges. It is the story of “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”.18 The story recounts the literary achievements of the fictional Pierre Menard, who in 1934 set out to write, not a copy of Cervantes’s Don Quixote, but the Don Quixote. “His aim was never to produce a mechanical transcription of the original; he did not propose to copy it. His admirable ambition was to produce pages which would coincide—word for word and line for line—with those of Miguel de Cervantes.”19 Menard’s Don Quixote was, however, not quite the same as Cervantes’s. The differences between the two works were extremely subtle, for the latter differed from the first not in literal form, but in implications. For example, since 300  years have passed between the writing of the first and the second Don Quixote, in which Don Quixote itself became part of the complex history of the internecine years, the naturalness surrounding the writing and character of the first is lost in the second.20 Menard does not attempt to be Cervantes, he tries to be Cervantes as Menard, a task,

most, theory and its necessary entailments are reduced to method, a procedure of reading texts that avoids any effort at redescription. In most cases exegesis amounts to nothing more than paraphrasing (this is still the case, for example in the classic exegetical genre, the biblical commentary). In consequence, theories of literature as well as social theories have been adapted and pressed into service of exegesis, but these only serve to “escape the ‘cost’ of those theoretical positions”, Smith (2000), p. 90. 17  Smith (2000), p. 91, a quotation in its entirety of Borges’s (1999), p. 325. 18  Smith refers to this story in the context of his discussion of George Foot Moore’s discussion of borrowings in Jewish religion, according to which the Jews borrowed concepts from other traditions, borrowings that were possible because ultimately these concepts were deeply rooted in Judaism itself. Therefore these were not “real” borrowings. In this context Smith refers to Borges’s tale of Pierre Menard as an example of reproducing what was already there; see his “In Comparison a Magic Dwells”, Smith (1982), pp. 30–31. The tale of Borges is taken from Jorge Luis Borges, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”, (1999), pp. 45–55. I will make somewhat different use of the allegory. Borges’s tale is a curious mixture of verisimilitude and the absurd, of fantasy and the seemingly historical. However, it can be profitably mined for its implications for the type of argument followed here in the context of an exposition of a theory of religion. 19  Borges, “Pierre Menard”, p. 49. 20  “To compose Don Quixote at the beginning of the seventeenth century was a reasonable, necessary and perhaps inevitable undertaking; at the beginning of the twentieth century it is almost impossible. It is not in vain that three hundred years have passed, charged with the most complex happenings—among them, to mention only one, the same Don Quixote”, Borges, “Pierre Menard”, p. 51.


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however skillfully accomplished (that is, with regard to achieving accurate and faultless seventeenth century Spanish grammar and style), executed not without a certain measure of affectation. The vividness of the bristling life of the world of the first novel is missing from the second, and the repetition of a seventeenth century soldier’s discourse against letters in favour of arms (and that now from a contemporary of Bertrand Russell) strikes the reader as artificial (“relapse into these nebulous sophistries!”).21 According to the narrator, the texts of Cervantes and Menard are verbally identical, but the Don Quixote of Menard is “almost infinitely richer”22 because of the irony involved. Repeating an anterior work in a later context is to be complicit in meanings you might not agree with, but also to make the text say something it did not say and mean the first time around.23

The Pierre Menard parable of Borges raises a number of considerations pertinent to a discussion of the relationship between scholarly reflection and religious experience and phenomena, that is, between the scholar of religion and his or her subject of study.24 The first issue that attention is drawn to is the impossibility of repeating an anterior work. As the literary work becomes part of its own effective history (Wirkungsgeschichte) meanings, significances, functions and uses are accrued to it which makes the later duplicate a stranger to the original. The meaning determining context of the duplicate creates a different set of meanings. When duplication or rewriting is nevertheless attempted, it has the character of affectation and artificiality. In the context of a discussion of the study of religion, it implies that the scholar of religion cannot simply repeat or reflect the religious (or insider) viewpoints of the religious texts and phenomena studied. However sympathetically the data is represented and interpreted, description and interpretation cannot entail the reproduction of the tradition, religion, myths, rituals, and so on. It cannot privilege the self-­ representation of the subjects studied. That would be to simply recreate the data, in the image of our parable: it would be to write an identical text to the first. Scholarly description and interpretation always has the character of translation in the sense of traduction.25 The “text” of description, interpretation and explanation is a  Borges, “Pierre Menard”.  Borges, “Pierre Menard”. 23  With regard to the former: “...his resigned or ironic habit of propounding ideas which were the strict reverse of those he preferred”, Borges, “Pierre Menard”, and with regard to the latter aspect, see the comparison between the two texts: “The latter [Cervantes], for instance, wrote (Don Quixote, Part One, Chapter Nine): [... truth, whose mother is history, who is the rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future.] Written in the seventeenth century, written by the “ingenious layman” Cervantes, this enumeration is a mere rhetorical eulogy of history. Menard, on the other hand, writes: [... truth, whose mother is history, who is the rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future.] History, mother of truth; the idea is astounding. Menard, a contemporary of William James, does not define history as an investigation of reality, but as its origin. Historical truth, for him, is not what took place; it is what we think took place. The final clauses—example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future—are shamelessly pragmatic”, Borges, “Pierre Menard”. 24  I am leaving aside questions of a literary nature, such as the absurd, bizarre and fantastical in Borges’s oeuvre. I will focus here only on what it can be made to say for the scholarly reflection on the study of religion. 25  From traduce, to misrepresent. Theorizing, that is, the mapping of theory on to data, always 21 22

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translation26 of the data into the matrices and categories of theory.27 Theory, therefore, in a very real sense creates the resulting scholarly construction of the subject.28

Beyond Phenomenology: Towards a Discourse Approach In his book Beyond Phenomenology. Rethinking the Study of Religion, Gavin Flood makes the operation of signification central to his reimagining of the study of religion. In what is arguably the core conceptual and methodological chapter in the book, he poses narrative theory (and one can add here, text communication theory) as the core conceptual issue in rethinking how to do the study of religion, for representing religious data and mapping theory on to data is an act or operation of signification.29 It is to define a signified to a signifier. Science is, after all, a metaphorical process of signification, of saying “this” (the explanandum—what is taken to be strange) is “that” (the explanans—the known). For this reason, one can maintain

implies a metaphorical process or the act of translation, if you wish. It is the proposal that the second-order language appropriate to one domain (the familiar/the known) may translate the second-order language appropriate to another domain (the unfamiliar/the unknown), or in the Durkheimian sense as followed here in this study, the proposal that the second-order language appropriate to society (in this case the known) may translate the second-order language appropriate to that of religion (in this case the unknown). It behoves us to keep in mind that “translation is never fully adequate. There is always discrepancy. (To repeat the old tag: ‘To translate is to traduce.’)”, Smith (2000), p. 91. 26  Again, in the sense of changing of condition of existence, or transformation. 27  The representation of data in scholarly theorizing and thinking demands more than a mere paraphrasing of the subject material. For the scholarly and theoretical purposes of comparison weak translation will be insufficient for purposes of thought. As Smith put it: “To summarize: a theory, a model, a conceptual category, cannot be simply the data writ large”, Smith (2000), p. 91 (emphasis in original). 28  In this regard I want to draw attention to the distinction made by Norwood Hanson between “sense-datum” words or “data-words” and “theory-loaded” words; see Braun (2000), p. 9; Braun and McCutcheon (2000). Although the context in which Braun refers to Hanson deals with concept formation in religious studies scholarship, the issue is relevant here as well. Hanson illustrates the difference between “sense-datum” words or “data-words” and “theory-loaded” words with the following illuminating example. Consider the two words “hole” and “crater”. In Hanson’s example “hole” (as “spatial concavity”) is a data-word, that is, its minimal lexical meaning can be ascertained by observation, and let us assume for the moment that something like objective observation is possible. In contrast to this, to label a certain spatial concavity a “crater” already expresses an interpretation as to its origin, namely that its creation was quick, violent and explosive. But note, the formation of the “hole” is not a given, only the absence of matter in the concavity. How this effect was produced and how we should name the phenomenon is the result of assumptions and interpretations. The “crater” is therefore produced by our assumptions and interpretations. In general, concepts “are products of scholars’ cognitive operations to be put to work in the service of scholars’ theoretical interest in the objects of their research. Concepts are not given off by the objects or our interests”, Braun (2000), p. 9; Braun and McCutcheon (2000). 29  Flood (1999).


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that scholarship is a kind of exegetical operation, of reading data (primary and secondary), and explaining their significance.

Not Mapping Theory: Phenomenology of Religion The relationship between theory and data poses, for the study of religion, in light of the history of the discipline, an especially problematic and thorny issue. The “founding” of the study of religion as “science of religion” by F. Max Müller in the late nineteenth century and the identification of science of religion with phenomenology of religion as the objective study of religion through ethnography and history (the term “phenomenology of religion” was coined by Chantepie de la Saussaye in 1887) went hand in hand with the aspiration to scientific objectivity, which in the field of the study of religion translated into causal explanations of religion, yet through non-reductionist descriptions and interpretations.30 The massive presence of phenomenologists of religion in the history of the discipline, from Max Müller and de la Saussaye to Eliade, had as a result that phenomenology of religion became the dominant paradigm in the academic study of religions.31 Religious studies within the framework of phenomenology of religion can be typified as a discourse with a method but without a theory (Gavin Flood characterizes this approach as “antitheoretical”), because of the reluctance to impose theory on data, and the wish to allow religious phenomena to reveal themselves.32 In phenomenology what is important are the data and their illumination, by whatever method. What is needed is “fellow feeling” or empathy. The assumption is, of course, that the religious data are transparent as “religious”.33 However, the “timelessness” which in this way comes to pervade phenomenological studies of religion causes it to be blind to the historical situatedness of the scholarly study of religion. The ideological foundations and presuppositions built into scholarly research, according to which data are selected, sifted, organized and created, call for reflexive thinking and research.34 However, what is most important in the

 This particular confluence of discursive streams was formed by Husserlian phenomenology and Hegelian philosophy; see Flood (1999), p. 31. As such Husserlian phenomenology was an outgrowth of German philosophy of the subject (Subjektsphilosophie) of German idealism of the late Enlightenment and early Romanticism. The Husserlian transcendental “I” as the absolute ground for certainty resulted, in the shape of the eidetic reduction and epoché, in a search for timeless essences, (1999), pp. 9–10. It is from phenomenology in general, and Husserl in particular, that phenomenology of religion derived some of its central concepts, namely “bracketing” (epoché), truth statement, the intuition of essences, and empathy, (1999), p. 16. 31  Flood (1999), p. 8. 32  Flood (1999), p. 16. 33  Flood (1999), p. 4. 34  As Flood put it so beautifully: “Mocassin walking or empathy does not provide a sufficiently rigorous theoretical basis on which to build an academic discipline”, Flood (1999), p. 4. “Moccasin walking” refers to the Indian adage “never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins”. 30

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context of this study is to understand the effect of the hidden assumptions of phenomenology of religion on the description of religion and on the history and character of the discipline of history of religion as a whole. It has been pointed out that a theological and ahistorical perspective governs the phenomenological understanding of religion in, for example, Mircea Eliade’s work. A major problem with this approach is that it sees religion as transcending history and, therefore, as a sui generis phenomenon, outside of history and socio-political structures.35 Two examples will serve to illustrate this point. The first is taken from Eliade’s The Myth of the Eternal Return: Every ritual has a divine model, an archetype; this fact is well enough known for us to confine ourselves to recalling a few examples. “We must do what the gods did in the beginning” (Śatapatha Brāhmana, VII, 2, 1, 4). “This the gods did; thus men do” (Taittiriya Brāhmana, I, 5, 9, 4). This Indian adage summarizes all the theory underlying rituals in all countries. We find the theory among so-called primitive peoples no less than we do in developed cultures.36

This passage illustrates Eliade’s theory of hierophany or the manifestation of the “sacred” in religious forms, especially in ritual which according to this theory, recapitulates myths of origins. In fact, in this view, the origins of rituals are in myth. Not only has the theory of hierophanies become suspect in cultural materialist perspectives,37 but it is also clear (now with the benefit of distance and hindsight) that these theories of myth and ritual harbour implicit theological assumptions as well as ahistorical understandings of religion. In this view, religion transcends history.

 Flood (1999), p. 6. For an overview of the field of conventional and canonical approaches to the study of religion, consult the following comprehensive collection of essays: Whaling (1995); see in this volume the essays by Whaling, “Introduction”, p.1–40, King, “Historical and Phenomenological Approaches”, pp. 41–176; Ninian Smart, “The Scientific Study of Religion in Its Plurality”, pp.  177–190; Whaling (1995), pp.  191–252; David Wulff, “Psychological Approaches”, pp.  253–320; Günter Kehrer and Bert Hardin, “Sociological Approaches”, pp.  321–50; Jarich Oosten, “Cultural Anthropological Approaches”, pp.  351–84, and Wouter E. A. van Beek, “Cultural Anthropology and the Many Functions of Religion”, pp. 385–98. We are concerned here with a specific theory of religion, as social construction, social formation and mythmaking. The point on phenomenology of religion is only raised here to illustrate the background against which Jonathan Z. Smith developed his practice of historico-comparative studies of religion. Many essays of his take issue, for example, with Eliade’s work and present rereadings of his work. 36  Flood (1999), p. 25. 37  See the critique of this type of explanation of myth and ritual in the essays of Jonathan Z. Smith, where he clearly overturns this view by showing how myths and rituals are to be understood as social performances grounded in, and elicited by, specific social circumstances. Exceedingly wellwritten discussions of myth and ritual, the emergence of the Myth and Ritual school of (mainly) Cambridge, and the polyparadigmatic function of myth, ritual and religion are to be found in Versnel (1984), pp.  194–246; Versnel (1993). In the main he shows how myths and rituals are strategies for dealing with ambiguous situations, hence the remainders of inconsistencies and ambiguities not smoothed over in myths and rituals. 35


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The second example of what a phenomenological description would be like comes from Gavin Flood38: For example, a phenomenological account of a Hindu ritual offering 108 pots of sanctified water to Ganeśa, will simply describe the pots and the actions of the participants in a way that assumes a detached objectivism. A dialogical account will assume the presence of the researcher, will be explicit about the research questions brought to bear upon the situation, and will focus on the analysis of language-as-performance in relation to action within a historically circumscribed horizon. Similarly, a dialogical reading of the New Testament might focus on the text as a literary document and upon the differing historical contingencies that produced both it and its reader.

The contrast in this example between what Flood calls a phenomenological approach and a dialogical approach39 neatly illustrates the “antitheoretical” stance of phenomenological studies and its feigned objectivity. Moreover, it is under the guise of “detached objectivism” that it becomes possible to reproduce, in the terms and with the conceptualization suggested by the research subject(s), the religious expressions and their meanings, of the native or insider viewpoint. If gods are named as agents in the insider version of their “binding narratives” or myths, does it follow that the researcher should conclude from that that myths are narratives about the primordial activities of the gods, and that religion is the reverence paid to superhuman beings? If religion is a way of speaking about cultural and human arts de faire, and if, as it is our purpose here, the “life” of religion is to be located in the “complex fabric of active interests of people in the real world”,40 then we should also understand that the transcendent, superhuman beings of myth and religious discourse41 only exist as discursive entities. As Braun puts it: ... insofar as the gods or ancestors “live,” it is contemporary people who give them life by talking about, to and with them. This, in turn, suggests that the object of the scholar’s study is not the gods but the complex social operations by which, and the conditions which, people discursively bring the gods to life. This orientation opens new lines of inquiry: what human interests are served in keeping the gods alive? What are the variety ramifications for self, society and culture in the cultivation and preservation of the gods?42

Following this line of reasoning phenomenology of religion as theoretical approach is seen as inadequately distanced from the subject matter to enable and facilitate the scholarly comparative and explanatory enterprise of description, comparison, redescription and rectification of categories.

 Flood (1999), pp. 7–8.  Flood’s term “dialogical approach” includes all the elements of the theory of religion espoused here, namely self-reflexivity, narrative (and narrative theory), history (and historical contingency), culture, signs, socio-political domains or contexts of meaning-creation as well as social and cultural theory. Flood clothes this contrast also in other terms, namely the contrast between a “philosophy of consciousness” (that is, phenomenology) and a “philosophy of the sign” (dialogical approach). 40  Braun (2000), p. 11. 41  However, one wants to name them: gods, spirits, ancestors, and so on. 42  Braun (2000), p. 11. 38 39

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Meanwhile, Back at the Map The map parable of Borges extends the application of the Pierre Menard parable even further in the direction of the relationship between theory and religion. The parable points to the fact that a map that is completely co-extensive with the territory it describes is useless. Such a map is not a map at all. It is nothing but a copy of the country the cartographers had set out to map. As a map it was useless, since in terms of the parable, to “read” the map was never to have left the landscape at all. The map could not explain the country it was supposed to map, and no reader would be able find directions through the landscape of the countryside. The implications for the study of religious phenomena and the conceptualization of religion are clear. A map represents an interpretation and explanation of the territory concerned. It does so by arbitrarily juxtaposing categories, points of reference and symbolic codes on to a severely foreshortened graphic representation of the territory or landscape All this is done according to specific perspectives, necessitated by, or called for according to the purposes the map should serve. That explains the existence of a variety of maps: political, ecological, historical, economic and agricultural, as well as geographical maps. It is in this sense that theories function like conceptual maps, by selecting from the vast amount of raw data exactly and only that which will be represented in symbolic codes within the coordinates, categories and frames of theory with a view to description, comparison and explanation. Selecting, collecting and ordering according to a defined taxonomy, that is the task of the historian or scholar of religion.43 It should soon enough become clear, in the course of this exposition on religion, history and the history of religion, why I started with a parable about a constructed map. The twofold metaphor of “map” and “territory” characterizes much of the theoretical thinking of Jonathan Z. Smith on religion and the study of religion (the “social constructivist theory of religion”), and in order to properly conceptualize “religion” and the study of religion, as it becomes relevant in this argument towards a discourse approach to religio-historical study, I needed to tease out from these metaphors their implications for a study of religion.44  We would do well to remind ourselves of the formulations of Jonathan Z. Smith and Willi Braun, already noted earlier: “There is no data for religion. Religion is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Religion has no independent existence apart from the academy”, Smith (1982), p. xi. Or as Willi Braun puts it: “We must regard religion as a concept, in the technical sense, and not as a substance that floats ‘out there’ ... Concepts are ideas used to allocate the stuff of the real world into a class of objects so as to position these objects for thought that is aimed toward explanation of their causes, functions, attractiveness to individuals and societies, relationships to other concepts”, in Braun (2000), pp. 8–9. 44  Especially important here, in connection with the map–territory metaphor, is the collection of essays of Smith (1978), notably the essays “Map is not Territory” (pp. 289–309), “The Wobbling Pivot” (pp. 88–103), “The Influence of Symbols on Social Change: A Place on Which to Stand” (pp. 129–146), “Wisdom and Apocalyptic” (pp. 67–78), “Birth Upside Down or Right Side Up?” (pp.  147–171), “The Temple and the Magician” (pp.  172–189), and “Good News is No News: 43


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The Study of Religion as Discourse Analysis While I have already intimated that the study of religion is a kind of exegesis I want to push the conventional phenomenologically oriented study of religion beyond the conventions of both phenomenology and its critical opposite. Following on from Gavin Flood’s critique of phenomenology, I nevertheless want to start with teasing out some critical pointers exactly from phenomenology as a method for my proposal of a discourse analysis approach. In James V.  Spickard’s essay “Phenomenology” in The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion, he highlights the problem already suggested above (the context, I might add as a reminder, is one of the methods of how to do phenomenological research in religion): Instead, it allows one to enter into an aspect of the informants’ religious world as it presents itself to their consciousness. From this, one may draw conclusions about their religion as it is actually lived—what some scholars are calling “lived religion” (333) … Contemporary empirical phenomenology seeks to do something quite different. It seeks to grasp the world as people experience it, shorn of their interpretations of those experiences. Those who follow Husserl emphasize the dynamic of consciousness and consciousness-of. Heidegger’s followers emphasize the simultaneous experience of object and context. Merleau-Ponty’s emphasize the embodied nature of all experiencing. All, however, seek to capture subjective consciousness. This is the Object toward which the phenomenological method is directed (336) … As David Yamane (2000) noted in a trenchant critique of my work on Navajo rituals, researchers do not have unmediated access to other people’s experiences. What they have—what any interview study has—is a set of narratives about experience. That is, phenomenological researchers get their data by interviewing informants about what has happened to them. In response, they get stories. People say “this happened, then this happened, it took such-and-such shape, etc.” This is not direct experience; it is narrative. We know that people are highly susceptible to narratives, often retrospectively retelling their experiences according to culturally valued scripts of one kind or another. David Bromley (1998) and Sarah Pike (2009), among others, have noted how Americans often construct “captivity narratives” to explain supposedly normal people’s participation in so-called “cults”, shootings, etc. How do we know that our informants are not reconstructing the experiences about which they tell us in their phenomenological interviews? [my emphases]45

In relating the problematic of “reading data” in this manner in what is meant to imply a sympathetic analysis and theorizing of religious phenomena and expressions, Spickard flags the problem of signification anew. The action and the broader process of signification need to be understood in quite a material sense. Religion and religious meaning (however one wishes to understand these) do not float in a dematerialized and decontextualized manner in thin air. They are not “just there”. As I stated in a different context:

Aretalogy and Gospel” (pp. 190–207); also Smith (1982) and Smith (1987). A very good overview of Smith’s theory of religion and his approach to the study of religion is found in Gill (2000), pp. 451–462, Gill (1998a), pp. 298–313 but especially Gill (1998b), pp. 283–312. 45  Spickard (2013), p. 342; Stausberg and Engler (2013).

Beyond the Insider—Outsider Perspective: The Study of Religion as a Study…


No religion or cult is simply “there”, rather religions and cults are, by contrast, performatives: they are the products of specific human actors performing, negotiating, creating categories and signifiers under the influence of socio-cultural forces through time and within specific geographies and material realities, using culturally commonplace ways to establish cult groups and cult practices, to construct complex cultural discourses, to interweave multi-vocal myth and practice from a huge manifold of Greco-Roman cultural repertoires, and to organize new complex social formations and creating new habitus. New religions or cults, or new versions of already established (imported) cults “happened” as human agents in concrete circumstances performed concrete actions to found such cult groups and invented traditions to serve identity-making purposes. Religions did not spread or migrate, people did, who brought with them their religious practices, beliefs, and paraphernalia. Religion, then, does not exist in general but as concrete cult instantiations, organized by their members as a form of social life, shaped and bounded by concrete enscripturations of household codes and identity charters.46

Religion, therefore, is the collective noun for the aggregate results or products of a wide array of operations of signification. These operations of significations each subsists in a material medium that we can study as speech acts. Thus, what is true of the multileveled, composite nature of speech acts is equally true of every operation of signification making up religion. These are: • Locution—the literal content of the speech act or signification. • Illocution—what is not said or represented, but without which the act of signification will not be complete or intelligible (often the context of the representation that speaks along with the literal contents). • Perlocution—the purpose of the presentation or signification, the intended use to which it is put; there need not be any direct congruence between contents, context and intended use, since signifiers are often floating and derive meanings from varying contexts of use, hence the changing meanings of religious expressions through time and variable contexts of implementation.47 Seeing it like this is to understand that religious language itself, as speech act, as social action, as rhetoric and as propaganda, is a mapping onto experiences of religious and cultural matrices, of social interests and ends, of world-creating strategies. In a sense, “primary” religious language is itself a second-order reflection and intellection. Aside from the question whether it is possible at all to have unmatrixed experiences, that is pure experience before interpretation (and I do not believe that to be possible), in view of the examples offered here of historical instances of proposing religious viewpoints, as rhetorical statements or proposals, one can say that religious language is also second-order reflection—and here it is important to note that from now on what is said about religion and the study of religion equally holds for theology and the study of theology. It should be noted that the historian of religion only has access to texts, that is, experiences that have been organized, filtered, matrixed and mapped, shaped and presented to pursue a specific end. The rhetoric 46  van den Heever (2014), 47  A point recently made by Russell McCutcheon in a Culture on the Edge blog post, McCutcheon (2016),


G. van den Heever

of the text and the religious expression itself, the world it creates and proposes, militates against seeing religious texts as simply expressive of inchoate experience. Religious texts, especially of the kind under consideration here, propose worlds and so attempt to evoke or create experience in accordance with the world view and ideology offered. Strictly speaking, one should differentiate between three orders of language: first-­order religious language, which is not accessible to the student of religious phenomena, being pre-reflective, unorganized and unlanguaged “pre-experience experience” (this is purely conceptually for the sake of the argument; in reality the language and the conceptual matrix creates the religious experience); second-order language, which is what is found in religious practices and expressions, being experience as it is conceptualized and presented or proposed; and third-order language, which is the language of the scholar in the endeavour of comparison and redescription (itself not without its ideological and rhetorical thrust). Rethinking our dual metaphor of “map” and “territory” within this framework implies that we do not operate with a unidimensional metaphor. Rather, our “maps” and “territories” are three-­dimensional or multidimensional. In essence this means that rhetoric is everything, and ubiquitous. Having been filtered through cultural matrices, terministic screens and rhetorical frames, all experience and reflection upon experience or theorizing of experience, that is, every map and territory, is the result of an act of cultural creativity. We make our world—at every conceivable level. One direct implication of the complexity involved in reading (phenomenologically) religious data and expressions is the caveat of the possible divergence between the surface expression (the overt referent) and the intended (covert) referent in religious expression. This can be graphically explained in the following diagram (Fig. 1): My argument here is simply this: it is concerned with what happens outside of the text or religious expression (or, to put it in conventional hermeneutical parlance: what happens in front of the text, around the text) albeit on the basis of what is inside the text—the literal content of the religious expression. My concern is with Religious text, action, expression symbolic content






plot; discourse

real author

Fig. 1  The double referentiality of religious expressions

real reader

Beyond the Insider—Outsider Perspective: The Study of Religion as a Study…


works of religious expression (texts, actions/rituals, symbolic production) as the artefactual remains of “religious” practices, and thus the recalibration of the study of religious practices to make visible, to conceptualize, and to theorize the socialrhetorical function of religious expressions as tools or artefacts of meaning-­making, myth-making and world-making practices.48 In other words, it is focused on religious expressions as embedded in social action, as a kind of social action itself, as a constituent of the event of social space-making in the construction of social positionalities. Thus, the position taken here deals with the double reference of religious artefacts: as religious texts and other expressions denote symbolic content (worldmaking on the level of the text), so the religious production itself has a rhetorical context, to which it refers either implicitly or explicitly through its coded rhetoric, and into which it functions and projects as a material instance of world-­making itself.49 If this is what it means to historicize religious expressions, our data for explanation and theorizing, then it is equally possible—and incumbent on the scholar of religion—as Tyler Roberts seems to suggest, to historicize the scholarly analysis of religious data as well.50 This would mean that one reads every discourse as a discourse in the context and frame of another discourse.51 If one then also keeps in mind that discourses do not exist as mere ideations, but exist as materially transmitted artefacts, then one can also speak of the discourse of the study of religion as a “field of scholarly production” (in reference to Pierre Bourdieu’s well-known sociological concept of a field). Like the previous diagram, Fig. 2 here represents the interplay between the two levels of the materiality of religious discourse construction and the representational event of religious and scholarly mediation. On the level of the “field of religious production” a real interaction takes place between author and readership through the means of the religious expression which encodes in its complex of compositional techniques and structure references to and constructions of symbols as well as suggested or implied symbolic meanings of these and affective relations to these symbolic expressions. When this process of religious production is theorized, it enters into another relation, namely with the “field of scholarly production”. In the field of scholarly production there is also a real interaction between scholars and audience (which may be the broader scholarly community or the public very broadly

 Spatializing practices here indicate the manner in which we relate through discourse to others and the world around us, that is, creating a positionality on the basis of which we construct identity, social formation, morals and world views. 49  In this regard Bruce Lincoln’s by now famous essay on the method of religious studies has achieved paradigmatic importance: Lincoln (2005), pp. 8–10, now republished in Lincoln (2012), pp. 1–3. See also Lincoln, “How to Read a Religious Text”, in Lincoln (2012), pp. 5–15. 50  Roberts (2006). 51  Murphy (2000), pp. 183–192. 48


G. van den Heever the field of religious production symbolic content real author: production




plot; discourse

scholarly commentator

real readers reception

scholarly audience

commentary and theorizing the field of scholarly production

Fig. 2  The double referentiality of the field of scholarly production

conceived),52 and again, this set of interactions that comprise the field of scholarly production stands in a kind of derivative or “parasitic” relation to the field of religious production—it feeds off the field of religious production, but then subsumes or absorbs the latter into a wider, broader, higher, more encompassing arena of cultural production that, as commentary, stands in a supplementary or even antithetical position to the field of religious production. Seen from this perspective, theorizing religious production is social, cultural and political work that is funded by the religious production that itself is social, cultural and political work in constructing social positionality, relations and world. In effect, looking at it like this is to conceive of cultural work (in its most broadly conceived) as discourse construction understood in its most encompassing sense. To put it again in other words, all levels of cultural production as “languages spoken in the context of other languages”, are aspects of the construction of a knowledge of how things are and how this knowing encodes social positionality and social interests.53 Hovering over my presentation here is my definition of discourse: I propose a definition of discourse as an understanding of the production of religious expressions and artefacts as well as the scholarship on such religious expressions as operations embedded in the field of discourse, that is, products of and producers of sets of representations (which range from the spoken word, text, gestures, rituals, religious spaces, the rhythms of life as hidden persuasions), including the social

 Again, I use the term “real” in order to locate the interaction in the real world, but the interaction itself is, of course, shaped by imagined positionalities and self-representations which may stand in a broad and varied spectrum of relations to “real conditions”. But even here, “real conditions” are always to some (or greater) extent imagined: material conditions do not exist outside of the way in which they are conceived and represented. 53  The phrase “languages spoken in the context of other languages” derives from the essay by Murphy (2000). 52

Beyond the Insider—Outsider Perspective: The Study of Religion as a Study…


locations that form the originary matrices for the particular inventions of these sets of representations; and the social interests encompassed/encapsulated in and giving rise to these sets of representations; the logic governing the interrelations between these factors or aspects; as well as the institutionalizations of such “domained” representations in canons of tradition, schools of thought, habitus as habituated action, social formations, cultural and socio-political-economic conventions, that is, as discursive formations. I view the two “fields”, therefore, not as two discrete fields, but as one big interconnected immersed game of discourse production. The stance taken here in setting the two fields in relation to each other stems from the work of Jean-Louis Fabiani who, in his book on what a French philosopher is (here I deliberately substitute religious production for what he says about philosophy and philosophers), argues that the broad corpus of religious expressions and symbolic production as a subset of cultural production cannot be extracted from wider processes of signification as if it exists sui generis.54 What Fabiani says of philosophy holds true for religious production as a scholarly industry, perhaps even more so: “It also includes material objects, spaces and social practices. It includes all types of reception, including the less orthodox.” Religious scholarly production is not the free-floating of disembodied ideas, but, as Fabiani suggests, the operational site—as well—of the socially and contextual determinant factors in the production of the discourse, hence the relocalization of this discourse production in this encompassing sense in sets of institutions (and here I freely expand on David Little’s exposition of Fabiani): the force of canons of themes, topics and methods; the publication industry with its own defined priorities; the marketing and publicizing industry; the academic industry of “graduate programs, journals, tenure processes, associations, prizes”; the production of second-order literature which is itself a production process of commodified intellectual labour.55 Viewing it like this is to practice a kind of reflexive sociology of the combined fields of literary and scholarly production (to adapt a topic from Pierre Bourdieu). At this point, it should be clear that I am suggesting a kind of metatheory of scholarly production that situates itself beyond the phenomenology– critical theory divide.

Conclusion The argument pursued here in this essay proceeds from the assumption that there is a structural parallel between religion—the practices, representations and expressions—conceived as discourse-making, and understanding the second- (or third-)

 Fabiani (2010). I cite the translation from the text in Little (2010), http://understandingsociety. 55  I have recently made a similar point with regard to the study of hermeneutics as the philosophical analytics of the decoding of literary texts, van den Heever (2015), pp. 187–218: “Reading-reception is a process of interaction with physical objects that still bear the marks of the industry that produced them” (207). 54


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order scholarship equally as discourse-making. Moreover, it is taken as given here that the two sets of discourses are not separate in kind, but stand in a continuum, that is, scholarly discourse is an extension of the primary discourse of religion.56 And yet, this does not mean that scholarship is merely an extension of religious practices and attitudes, neither is its function to affirm religious values. Rather, viewing both as species of discourse-making (in light of my definition of discourse), opens the possibility of radically historicizing both religion as primary discourse and the study of religion as secondary discourse. This is a way of conceiving the relationship between religion as primary discourse (the so-called insider perspective), and the scholarly study of religion as secondary discourse (the so-called outsider perspective), in a way that moves beyond the insider–outsider problem in the study of religion. As such, I am suggesting seeing the study of religion as a case of “in” in an “out manner”, and “out” in an “in manner”. The essay attempted an illustration of how one can view both primary religious data as well as scholarship on these as world-making operations, and thereby illustrates how one can understand religious theorizing also as a kind of politico-scholarly activism.

References Arnal, William E., Willi Braun, and Russell T. McCutcheon, eds. 2014. Failure and nerve in the academic study of religion. Sheffield: Equinox. Arnal, William, and Russell T. McCutcheon. 2012. The sacred is the profane: The political nature of “religion”. 1st ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Blum, Jason N. 2012. Retrieving phenomenology of religion as a method for religious studies. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 80 (4): 1025–1048. Borges, Jorge Luis. 1999. Collected fictions. New York, NY: Penguin Books. Braun, Willi. 2000. Religion. Pages 3–18 in Guide to the study of religion, ed. Willi Braun and Russell T. McCutcheon. New York, NY: Continuum. Braun, Willi, and Russell T. McCutcheon, eds. 2000. Guide to the study of religion. New York, NY: Continuum. Chidester, David. 1996. Empire of religion: Imperialism and comparative religion. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia. ———. 2014. Empire of religion: Imperialism and comparative religion. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Courtright, Paul B. 2006. The self-serving humility of disciplining liberal humanist scholars: A response to Russell McCutcheon. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 74 (3): 751–754. Dunn, Mary. 2016. What really happened: Radical empiricism and the historian of religion. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 84 (4): 881–902. Engler, Steven, and Gregory P. Grieve. 2005. Historicizing “tradition” in the study of religion, Religion and society 43. New York, NY: de Gruyter.  As I have intimated all along, I am deeply suspicious of a principled contrast between primary data and secondary order interpretation of the data. Such a contrast assumes that it is possible to have unmediated religious expressions and practices. Reality is the opposite: all religious practices and expressions are mediated through meaning frameworks and interpretive matrices  – as any exegesis of religious texts, traditions and rituals will show.


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Fabiani, Jean-Louis. 2010. Qu’est-ce qu’un philosophe français? La vie sociale des concepts (1880-1980). Paris: Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales. Flood, Gavin. 1999. Beyond phenomenology: Rethinking the study of religion. London, UK: Cassell. Gill, Sam D. 1998a. No place to stand: Jonathan Z. Smith as homo ludens, the academic study of religion sub specie ludi. JAAR 66 (2): 283–312. ———. 1998b. Territory. Pages 298–313 in Critical terms for religious studies, ed. Mark C. Taylor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ———. 2000. Play. Pages 451–62 in Guide to the study of religion, ed. Willi Braun and Russell T. McCutcheon. London, UK: Cassell. Gottschalk, Peter. 2012. Religion, science, and empire: Classifying Hinduism and Islam in British India. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Grieve, Gregory P., and Richard Weiss. 2005. Illuminating the half-life of tradition: Legitimation, agency, and counter-hegemonies. Pages 1–15 in Historicizing “tradition” in the study of religion, Religion and society 43, ed. Steven Engler and Gregory P. Grieve. Berlin, Germany: de Gruyter. Griffiths, Paul J. 1998. Response: Some confusions about critical intelligence: A response to Russell T. McCutcheon. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 66 (4): 893–896. Horsley, Richard A. 2003. Religion and empire: People, power, and the life of the spirit. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. Jameson, Fredric. 1981. The political unconscious: Narrative as a socially symbolic Act. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Keller, M. L. 2016. Laurie Zoloth was right to ask for an AAR sabbatical, but it’s too little, too late. Religious Studies News. Retreived 24 June, 2016, from laurie-zoloth-was-right-ask-aar-sabbatical-its-too-little-too-late Lewis, James R., and Olav Hammer. 2007. The invention of sacred tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Lincoln, Bruce. 2005. Theses on method. Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 17 (1): 8–10. ———. 2012. Gods and demons, priests and scholars. Critical explorations in the history of religions. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Little, D. 2010. French Philosophy? Understanding society. Retrieved from Lybarger, Loren D. 2016. How far is too far? Defining self and other in religious studies and Christian missiology. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 84 (1): 127–156. Mack, Burton L. 1996. On redescribing Christian origins. Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 8 (3): 247–269. Martin, Luther H. 2000. Review symposium on Russell T. McCutcheon’s Manufacturing religion: The discourse on sui generis religion and the politics of nostalgia. Culture and Religion 1 (1): 95–97. Masuzawa, Tomoko. 2005. The Invention of world religions: Or, how European universalism was preserved in the language of pluralism. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. McCutcheon, R. T. 2016. “S.O.B.” Culture on the edge. Retrieved 7 July, 2016, from http://edge. McCutcheon, Russell T. 1998. Redescribing ‘religion’ as social formation: Toward a social theory of religion. Pages 51–72 in What is religion? Origins, definitions, and explanations, Studies in the history of religions 81, ed. Thomas A. Idinopulos and Brian Courtney Wilson. Leiden: Brill. ———. 2001. Critics not caretakers: Redescribing the public study of religion, SUNY series, Issues in the study of religion. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. ———. 1997. Manufacturing religion: The discourse on sui generis religion and the politics of nostalgia. 1st ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ———. 2003. The discipline of religion: Structure, meaning, rhetoric. London, UK: Routledge. ———. 2006. It’s a lie. There’s no truth in it! It’s a sin!: On the limits of the humanistic study of religion and the costs of saving others from themselves. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 74 (3): 720–750.


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———. 2014a. A modest proposal on method: Essaying the study of religion, Supplements to Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 2. Leiden: Brill. ———. 2014b. Entanglements. Marking place in the field of religion. Sheffield: Equinox. Murphy, Tim. 2000. Speaking different languages: Religion and the study of religion. Pages 183–92  in Secular theories on religion. Current perspectives, ed. Tim Jensen and Mikael Rothstein. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. Omer, Atalia. 2011. Can a critic be a caretaker too? Religion, conflict, and conflict transformation. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 79 (2): 459–496. Orsi, Robert A. 2006. Between heaven and earth: The religious worlds people make and the scholars who study them. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ———. 2012. The Cambridge companion to religious studies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ———. 2016. History and presence. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. Pennington, Brian K. 2005. Was Hinduism invented? Britons, Indians, and the colonial construction of religion. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Proudfoot, Wayne. 1985. Religious experience. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Roberts, Tyler. 2006. Between the lines: Exceeding historicism in the study of religion. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 74 (3): 697–719. Smith, Jonathan Z. 1978. Map is not territory. Studies in the history of religions, Studies in Judaism in late antiquity 23. Leiden: Brill. ———. 1982. Imagining religion: From Babylon to Jonestown. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. ———. 1987. To take place: Toward theory in ritual. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. ———. 1998. Religion, religions, religious. In Pages 269–84 in critical terms for religious studies, ed. Mark C. Taylor. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. ———. 2000. Bible and religion. Bulletin: Council of Societies for the Study of Religion 29 (4): 87–93. Spickard, James V. 2013. Phenomenology. Pages 333--345 in The Routledge handbook of research methods in the study of religion, ed. Michael Stausberg and Steven Engler. London, UK: Routledge. Stausberg, Michael, and Steven Engler, eds. 2013. The Routledge handbook of research methods in the study of religion. London, UK: Routledge. van den Heever, G. 2014. Redescribing cult formation in the early imperial era: Discourse, invention, material religion. Greco-Roman Religions at the Society of Biblical Literature. Retrieved 28 December, 2014, from van den Heever, Gerhard. 2015. What do you read when you read a religious text? Religion and Theology 22 (3–4): 187–218. Versnel, H.S. 1984. Gelijke monniken, gelijke kappen: Myth and Ritual, oud en nieuw. Lampas 17 (2): 194–246. ———. 1993. Inconsistencies in Greek and Roman religion. 2. Transition and reversal in myth and ritual, Studies in Greek and Roman religions 6.2. Leiden: Brill. Whaling, Frank. 1995. Theory and method in religious studies. Contemporary approaches to the study of religion. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Zoloth, Laurie. 2016. 2014 AAR presidential address: Interrupting your life: An ethics for the coming storm. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 93 (1): 1–22.

Beyond a Dichotomy of Perspectives: Understanding Religion on the Basis of Paul Natorp’s Logic of Boundary Julian Hensold

Abstract  Based on Paul Natorp’s (1854–1924) late post-Neo-Kantian “Logic of Boundary” (German: “Grenzlogik”) I will offer a methodically controlled, nonreductionist and equally anti-essentialist reconstruction of the notion of religion. The pre-eminent objective of this reconstructive work is to overcome the wellknown epistemological as well as methodological problem of a dichotomy between inside and outside perspectives on the subject of religion. Differently put, the objective consists in an attempt to demonstrate that there actually is “reason in religion” that is intellectually accessible for academic knowledge production. Following Natorp’s splendid formulation I will argue that religion operates neither ‘within’ nor ‘beyond’ the ‘boundary of humanity’ but exactly on [or ‘in’] this boundary. More precisely, I will explicate that religious praxis (including its specific production of knowledge) from Natorp’s standpoint can be understood as the performative realization, and habitual embodiment of the (contextually concrete) boundary of humanity or human reason itself. Due to its principial self-referentiality this boundary carries the crucial sense of a first and last positive and, therefore, both in theoretical terms definitive and in practical terms eminently instructive notion of boundary with no outside. This paradoxically all-enclosing, positive boundary, while explicitly including life’s inevitable negativity but, nonetheless, able to ideally sublate it, is the reason why the practice of religion, as empirical evidence unmistakably documents, can provide an incommensurably fulfilling, significant and meaningful closure with regards to the innermost self-perception of its practitioners (concerning their self-determination or agency).

J. Hensold (*) Faculty of Theology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 J. Hensold et al. (eds.), Religion in Motion,



J. Hensold

1 . Contextualization: German Protestant Theology and the Dichotomy of Perspectives For about 200 years German Protestant theology, due to its historical genealogy and its specific contextual origins and influences, has faced and still faces a challenge that, pointedly put, by now in fact has become an irreducible core aspect of its constitution: determined by its double “nature” both as an academic discipline (predominantly taught in the context of state-owned universities) as well as an indispensable self-regulatory function of contemporary Protestantism in Germany (and, thus, itself an important element of a distinct religio-cultural field), German Protestant theology, by constantly counterbalancing outside and inside perspectives concerning an adequate understanding of religious praxis, has to balance itself on the intersection of academic and religious knowledge production. In other words, in the case of German Protestant theology as in the analogous case of other academic theologies the challenge of overcoming the crucial epistemological as well as methodological problem of a fixed substantial dichotomy between inside (“emic”) and outside (“etic”) perspectives on religion implying mutual exclusion is a tightrope act of existential significance.1 Against this backdrop, I think it is evident that like other academic theologies in parallel contexts German Protestant theology, in comparison to the humanities, philosophy, social and other sciences with respect to their manifold research on religion and religio-cultural fields, has to even more thoroughly work on problem solutions regarding the possible emergence and continuation of grave perspectival insider–outsider discrepancies. In so doing as a Protestant theologian and by sharing my insights with scholars and students of other academic disciplines (including other theologies) I, therefore, hope to enrich the transdisciplinary discourse on religion. It is in this context that I am trying to answer the following two questions that I believe are of vital interest not only to theologians. First: given that historical, philological, psychological, sociological, philosophical perspectives etc. do not per se undermine and harm religious praxis but, quite the opposite, can be of great value for “visible” (institutionalized) as well as “invisible”2 (private or even intimate) religion,3 when or why exactly is it that outside perspectives start to substantially contradict and effectively exclude the perspective(s) of religious insiders? And second: is there an understanding, a notion of religion, that can transgress the dichotomy of perspectives as the general, underlying problem in a methodically

1  Kottak provides a basic definition of the mostly in ethnographic (or cultural-anthropological) and sociological research contexts employed differentiation between “emic” (or inside) and “etic” (or outside) perspectives (or approaches) towards formations of religion and culture in general. See: Kottak (2013), p. 47. 2  Concerning the influential knowledge-sociological concept of an “invisible religion” see: Luckmann (1967). 3  For a detailed, constructive as well as critical theological evaluation of the relevance of outside perspectives (on religion) for the praxis of religion and theology see: Barth (2003), pp. 29–87.

Beyond a Dichotomy of Perspectives: Understanding Religion on the Basis of Paul…


controlled way without “transcending” the realm of human reason altogether? Since I am convinced that such a solution option indeed exists, the latter question, admittedly, is more of a rhetorical question—however, of course free from sophistic intentions. In the framework of answering the second question I—as indicated in the subheading—will undertake a first step of a systematic-theologically motivated (re-) introduction of one distinct element of Paul Natorp’s largely neglected late post-­ Neo-­Kantian philosophy, namely his project to rethink and to justify the notion of religion from the standpoint of reason; what he calls a “Logic of Boundary” or a “Philosophy of Boundary”.4 The concrete setting of this question of course calls for a strictly systematic and problem-oriented approach in regards to the reconstruction of Natorp’s thought. That means I explicitly do not intend to offer an extensive work-historical approach geared towards a comprehensive reconstruction of the (immanent) development of Natorp’s thought on religion from the earlier5 up to the later and latest stages of his work. Instead I will exclusively provide a reconstruction of Natorp’s Logic of Boundary that is centrally focused at developing a solution option for the general problem at hand. More precisely, I will reconstruct Natorp’s Logic of Boundary as a speculative-dialectically logical and in this sense methodically controlled, adequate and just reconception of the notion of religion that is able to avoid the substantial dichotomy of perspectives without walking into either one of the two most prominent traps of reductionism and essentialism. Before I get started let me premise some methodical clarifications concerning the selection of texts, my dealing with them and my presentation strategy. Due to Paul Natorp’s untimely death his late post-Neo-Kantian work, adding up to about 2000 pages and dispersed over dozens of publications, remained fragmentary, which unfortunately is especially true for his Logic of Boundary. As a consequence, I cannot decide on one main source or a small number of main sources as the textual basis of my reconstruction. Rather as common practice in Natorp scholarship I will 4   While (mainly) varying between the two expressions, “Logic of Boundary” (German: “Grenzlogik”) and “Philosophy of Boundary” (German: “Grenzphilosophie”), quantitatively seen, Natorp tends to the first formulation. Three times Natorp makes use of the term Logic of Boundary: (1) in his last major manuscript finished for publication, his Lectures on Practical Philosophy (German: “Vorlesungen über Praktische Philosophie”) appearing posthumously in 1925, (2) In a letter to his student and colleague Hinrich Knittermeyer stemming from 8 April 1924, and (3) In a letter draft addressed to Theologian Wilhelm Siebel dating only one day before his death on 17 August 1924. See: Natorp (1925), p. 534; Natorp (2000), p. XXXVIII; Siebel (1927): p. 599. In contrast, only once, namely in a letter to his student Hinrich Knittermeyer stemming from 23 September 1923, Natorp prefers the term Philosophy of Boundary. See: Natorp (2000), p. XXXVII.  Apart from the two abovementioned expressions Natorp in three earlier texts written during the years 1915–1918 speaks in the same regard of a methodical “Consideration of Boundary” (German: “Grenzerwägung” or “Grenzbetrachtung”). See: Holzhey (1986), pp. 105–40; Natorp (1918a), pp. 35–38, Natorp (1918b), pp. 27–30. In concordance with, first, Natorp’s own latest favoured use, second, the already established convention within Natorp scholarship, as well as, third, Natorp’s son and editor, Hans Natorp, I will exclusively use the formulation Logic of Boundary in the following. See additionally Hans Natorp’s editor’s note in: Natorp (1925), p. II. 5  Concerning Natorp’s earlier understanding of religion see: Natorp (1908).


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have to work with all of the relevant texts and that means I will have to eclectically consider most of his late work. In general, I will avoid Natorp’s specific, quite unique and at times even poetic terminology and idiolect.6 Considering the fairly unknown as well as challenging subject of my enterprise I will employ a presentation strategy that undertakes great efforts to provide as detailed as necessary explanations and (background) information. A vital element of this strategy will be the systematic use of footnotes.

2 . Identifying the Problem: The Thought Paradigm of Finite Human Reflection A false hypothesis is better than none at all; for that it is false does not harm at all; but when it fortifies itself, when it is accepted universally and becomes a kind of creed that nobody may doubt, that nobody may investigate, that is the disaster of which centuries suffer.7 – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In an effort to answer the first question I pose a crucial thesis that very well might astonish in the entirety of its explication: based on Hegel’s critique of European Enlightenment I argue that nothing less than one of the core ideas of modern (including so-called “postmodern”) epistemology and methodology, what I will call the thought paradigm of finite human reflection,8 lays at the very root of the problem of perspectives.9 The actual influence of this idea can hardly be overestimated. In fact, the thought paradigm of finite human reflection is the more or less undisputedly prevailing, basic constituens or “instrument”10 of the economy of knowledge in the 6  It is a common feature of speculative philosophers that they, similar to poets and literary writers, work on developing their own distinct terminology and idiolect. The reason, despite frequently misrepresented and turned upside down, is not to obscure but to bring to light what is unintentionally veiled by the conventional use of language: the principial or originally presentative dimension of sense/thought (or Being). 7  This translation is taken from: Kaufmann (2009), pp. 45–46. The original German version is to be found in: von Goethe (2007), p. 417. 8  The use of this expression as well as its explication is closely related to Hegel’s infamous Vorrede zu Hinrichs’ Religionsphilosophie. More exactly he speaks of “finite” or “formal reflection” (German: “endliche Reflexion” or “formelle Reflexion”) in the sense of his notion of “rationality” (German: “Verstand”) that—according to Hegel—has to be seen in opposition to “reason” (German: “Vernunft”). See: Hegel (2003), pp. 42–67; esp. 48, 64. 9  Expanding Hegel’s profound analysis and critique of European Enlightenment philosophies (including Kantianism and the post-Kantian philosophies) to the current context(s) of academic and intellectual discourse(s) (not exclusive in the Global North), I hold the position that the vast majority of today’s modern or so-called “postmodern” (mainly post-structuralist) conceptions of knowledge production in fact are not to be seen as a negation but rather as the progressive realization and, that way, an emphatic affirmation of the prevalent principle of European Enlightenment, namely the (thought-)paradigm of finite human reflection. 10  Hegel, elucidating the devastating consequences of “formal reflection” on the praxis of religion as well as its theological and philosophical understanding, can even speak of it metaphorically as

Beyond a Dichotomy of Perspectives: Understanding Religion on the Basis of Paul…


context of today’s academic discourses (inside and outside Europe). Now what are the concrete implications of the paradigm? With the expression of a thought paradigm of finite human reflection I am referring to the farthest-reaching, in fact logico-­ metaphysical11 idea that any sense-performance12 (vulgo: “sense making”) or thought (according to this paradigm) is of categorically finite-reflective quality. In this sense one could also speak of a logico-metaphysical finitism.13 Explicating this the “weapon of finite thought” (German: “Waffe des endlichen Denkens”) or as a “formalist weapon” (German: “formelle Waffe”). See: Hegel (2003), pp. 48, 50, 61. 11  With the crucial notion of a logico-metaphysical idea I am highlighting the inevitable “fact” (or problem) that, since human knowledge production, inseparably bound to the medium of sense or thought in all of its irreducible and most general implications, can itself exclusively be known and become knowledge via an operation of radical self-application, any attitude or stance in this regard necessarily is—if more or less implicit (“unconscious”) or explicit, “trivial” or “sophisticated”, non-systematic or to which exact degree ever systematic—meta-physical in the concrete sense that it per definitionem transcends the realm of physical realities in the strict meaning. Simpler put, nothing (no thing and no instance) can make human beings understand their (own) understanding other than their (own) understanding itself; and this understanding (of understanding) obviously is not a tangible and empirically testable physical object. An intellectual and methodically adequate investigation about this meta-physical subject-object, however, because its “matter” is sense  or thought, has to be strictly logical (however, of course not in the narrow sense of formal logics). Thus, I think, it is easy to see that logics and metaphysics in this precise sense coincide. This is the sense in which I am using the expression of a logico-metaphysical idea. Coming back to the absolutely uncircumventable “circle” (concerning an understanding of understanding), that of course is not per se a merely tautological circulus vitiosus, I again have to underline the following: the uncircumventability of this circularity implies that in regards to an attitude or a stance towards knowledge production, knowing or understanding in all of its irreducibly general implications there is no way around logico-metaphysics or—if not made explicit—silent logico-metaphysical presuppositions (in the sense elaborated!). In other words, the question of logico-metaphysics cannot be “if”; instead it has to be “how”. Moreover, asking and answering this question is of highest significance, since how human beings understand their ability of understanding determines their understanding of themselves, their surroundings and their “other(s)” fundamentally (in a systematic and problem-oriented perspective this question, if taken to its full radicality, actually is identical with the quest of religion for—simply put—first and last knowledge). The notion of a logico-metaphysical idea, as I use it, therefore, does not per se carry a pejorative connotation actually quite the opposite; it does, however, point to the most fundamental and significant implications of any attitude or stance in regards to knowledge production, knowing or understanding (in/ through the medium of thought or sense) including the paradigm of finite human reflection. 12  In the following I use the signifier “sense” in order to refer to the medium of the (self-)conscious, categorial processuality of mediation, including thought, reflection, imagination and perception as (qualitatively) differing, differentiated and differentiable, forms of its realization. “Senseperformance” then implies processes of qualitatively differing (self-)conscious categorial mediation (thinking, reflecting, imagining and perceiving). Self-evidently, however, sense is not just identical with the (purely) psychic or phenomenal immediateness of sensation, meaning sensual perception according to the five human senses (or sensory organs). Yet, as soon as perception “leaves” the realm of the pre-/subconscious awareness of sensation by identifying something as something, it “enters” the realm of sense or (self-)conscious categorial mediation and, thereby, ceases its (pure) sensual immediateness; and only due to this transformative sense-performance (this “act” of mediation) perception is meaningful in an – which way ever – intentional and articulable fashion. 13  See footnote 91.


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idea in greater detail according to its three main manifestations, it only allows for an interpretation of sense-performance or thought as an operation of finite reflection (or finite determination) or simply negation presupposing either (1) a given positive, meaning empirically testable, “fact” (what the American philosopher Wilfrid Sellars famously called a “myth of the given”14), or (2) another foregoing operation of reflection ad infinitum, or (3) a more fundamental, “principial” or pre-/subconscious dynamic of positing (one might analogously speak of a “myth of giving or gift”15 in this regard). Regardless of these specific details the paradigm of finite human reflection renders the medium of sense (or thought) throughout as essentially finite or negative (dependent, incomplete; or discontinuous in itself), and as such exclusively capable of mediating correspondingly finite and contingent forms of knowledge. In other words, the paradigm conceives of the medium of sense (or thought) as a more or less abstract or instable form without substantial content. Taking a closer look at the crucial systematic issues of justification or, more precisely, final justification16 and mediation, the thought paradigm of finite human reflection implies the fixation of a virtually interminable gap or break “located” either between the medium of sense (or thought) and that which it depends on in order to become meaningful and positive or within the medium itself (no matter how this discontinuity is concretely “deduced” in each case). By these means the paradigm inscribes a programmatic signature of infinite regression (in the sense of an unstoppable drift of justification and mediation) into the economy of knowledge in general, making the production of ultimately positive, first and/or last, justified knowledge categorically impossible. Thus, looking at the logico-metaphysical trajectory of the paradigm’s final justificational implications, it lets the medium of sense (or thought) appear as a, metaphorically speaking, bottomless abyss of negativity.17 From a praxeological standpoint, therefore, one might think of the paradigm as an (intellectual) habitus programme that operates according to a categorical

 For the concept of a “myth of the given” see: Sellars (1997), pp. 14, 45.  What I—referencing and expanding on Sellars’ critique of the “myth of the given”—propose here to call a “myth of giving or gift” can be reconstructed as a (logico-metaphysical) lowereddown positivism or ultra-positivism. More precisely, I am talking about a notion of positivism from the standpoint of a metaphysics of reflection or simply a positivism of reflexivity. In sharp contrast, Hegel’s project in the second part of his Science of Logic, the Doctrine of Essence, can be seen as an attempt to “deconstruct” and to sublate this myth. According to Hegel’s Doctrine of Essence, the truth of pure thought/knowing can only insufficiently be explicated in the context of a metaphysics of reflection, namely as that which is “given by essence” as reflection and not how it is “in and for itself” (as the notion of notion or the logical Self). See: Hegel (1978), p. 243. Looking for concrete examples of this “myth of giving or gift” one might prominently think of Derrida’s (non-) notion of “différance”, Deleuze’s concept of a “negationless difference” or Heidegger’s concept of “Ereignis”. See: Derrida (1999), pp.  31–56; Deleuze (2007), pp.  12, 15–47; Heidegger (1988), pp. 5–30. 16  See: Footnote 51. 17  This is to say that the logico-metaphysical foundations of the paradigm of finite human reflection endanger its application to successively take on sceptic or even (normatively) nihilist tendencies. 14 15

Beyond a Dichotomy of Perspectives: Understanding Religion on the Basis of Paul…


imperative of self-finitization concerning the overall economy of knowledge.18 Discourses constitutively predicating on the paradigm bind themselves to a habitual praxis of epistemological (and methodological) self-restriction, exclusively allowing them the production and acknowledgment of finite knowledge. Needless to say, in this context the idea of (non-contingent) truth itself gets, more or less openly, crossed out as an illusion or a phantasm19 and its value, its practical dimension, if accepted at all, is categorically pushed back into the realm of privacy or “subjectivity” (meaning private individual conviction). Thus, whenever the paradigm of finite human reflection underlies an attempt, not only to (tentatively) describe and analyse aspects of religion, but to adequately understand or even to fully explain what religion constitutively is about and what its procedures really mean, this attempt necessarily starts undermining the inside perspective of religious praxis and knowledge production and, in this way, establishes a substantial dichotomy of perspectives. Now why and how precisely would this be the case? It is everything but an essentialization if reminded that religious praxis and knowledge production realizes, in the double, active as well as passive sense of the word, sense- or thought-figurations of ultimate, first and last positive meaning—no matter if they may explicitly be marked as “faith” or “belief” (or not). Seen from a perspective grounded in the paradigm of finite human reflection, however, these figurations per definitionem cannot be taken for what they (are meant to) present or represent. Instead, by holding true to the paradigm’s categorical imperative of self-­ finitization, an academic theology or any other academic discipline (for whatever reason) interested in adequately understanding, explaining or alternatively re-­ interpreting religion, nolens volens, will either end up explaining the uniqueness and the truth claim(s) of religion completely away (which is especially likely whenever functionalist and/or structuralist theories about religion are involved); or it will at least fall into eminent danger of challenging the first- and lastness, the principiality and finality, of religious knowledge and its production by presupposing a finitist and, therefore, reductionist interpretation perspective substantially differing from it. Given that academic discourses adhering to the thought paradigm of finite human reflection do not intend to undermine or criticize religion—while (self-)criticism of religion (as much as critical discourse in general), nonetheless, remains not only legitimate but indispensable in the context of a free and open society—they find  For explicatory reasons I am adopting the notion of a praxeological standpoint (or praxeology) from Pierre Bourdieu’s socio-anthropology, although I do not agree with him concerning his epistemology (that in my eyes actually is one of the prime examples in modern sociology of the aporetic consequences of the paradigm of finite human reflection). For Bourdieu’s concept of praxeology see: Bourdieu (2012), pp. 137–388; Bourdieu (1993). 19  Hegel puts this (explicit or implicit) negation of truth, meaning the impossibility of true knowing, as a consequence of the unquestioned predominance of “finite reflection” (or “rationality”; German: “Verstand”) pointedly when he states (my translation): “The one [sic!] of the absolute presuppositions of the culture of our time is that humanity does not know anything about the truth. The Enlightened rationality has not so much come to the conscious realization and the statement of this, its own, result, it rather has simply brought it about.” For the German original see: Hegel (2003), p. 52 and also 53–56. 18


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themselves entangled in a vicious double-bind: seeking to understand religion they have to understand religion as that which religion does not understand itself; and this way (they) actually seem to be unable or at least not fully able to understand religion. At best such academic discourses can forcefully differentiate between a perspective of “within” and a perspective of “beyond” the boundaries of human reason meaning the sphere of academic knowledge production as they conceive it. Yet, by placing religion, or, more precisely, the religious inside perspective “beyond” this boundary, such discourses accept that they are incapable of fully or properly understanding it. In this manner and although without any such intentions religious practice is systematically, epistemologically as well as methodologically, forced back into an obscure irrational sphere “beyond” the boundaries of human reason that is said to be only subjectively accessible (by private experience), a psychic or phenomenal “arcanum”, a hermetic inside blocking out all objective outside perspectives.20 This forceful differentiation or dichotomization is especially problematic and harmful for academic theologies, since, without further modifying determinations, it implies an irreversible disjunction of theological and religious practice and knowledge production. If, therefore, the thought paradigm of finite human reflection, with reference to the quotation in this section’s heading, reveals itself as a “false hypothesis”, it truly is an example of a “disaster of which centuries suffer” along the lines of Goethe; at least regarding its application to an adequate understanding and explication of religion.21 That this indeed is the case, but also that there is a possible way out of this “disaster”, is what I hope to demonstrate over the course of the following systematically problem-oriented reconstruction of Paul Natorp’s Logic of Boundary.

 Paradigmatic for such an approach towards religion and of considerable historical influence on theology as well as religious studies for instance was/is Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy. See: Otto (2014). For a proper appreciation as well as concise critique of Otto’s approach see: Carsten (1990), pp. 40–49. 21  Rigorously pointing out the devastating consequences of the aporetic constitution of the paradigm of finite human reflection for both the sciences as well as religion (and their relation) Hermann F. W. Hinrichs wrote in 1822 (my translation): “If, therefore, science [here in the wide sense of academic as well as scientific knowledge production] is brought in opposition to religion, and vice versa religion in opposition to science, and this opposition is fixated by imagination as absolute, then either this fixation is strictly against the mind that’s element is knowledge, and as such it is mindlessness itself, or it even is a negative dissolution, namely subsistence of religion without science, and science without religion, which is the most godless skepticism, because it annihilates both religion and science.” For the original German version of this quotation see: Hinrichs (1822), p. 6. 20

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3 . Paul Natorp’s Logic of Boundary: A Viable Solution for the Problem The object of religion is neither to be found within nor beyond the ‘boundaries of humanity’, neither inside nor outside the reach of human experience, but exactly on this boundary.22 – Paul Natorp

At this point my second admittedly rhetorical question arises: is there an understanding, is there a notion of religion that can transgress and mediate the substantial dichotomy between outside and inside perspectives on religion without “transcending” the realm of reason altogether? Asking this question, I of course think that I can present such a viable problem solution. In the following I will reconstruct Paul Natorp’s late post-Neo-Kantian23 Logic of Boundary as a speculative-dialectically logical and in this methodical sense equally non-reductionist and anti-essentialist reconception of the notion of religion, which is able to reasonably overcome the problematic antagonism of perspectives by constructively leaving behind the thought paradigm of finite human reflection that was just identified as the root of the problem. Let me proleptically sketch out this notion: religion, following Natorp’s felicitous formulation, neither operates “‘within’ nor ‘beyond’ the boundary of humanity” but “exactly on [or ‘in’] this boundary;”24 its understanding might exceed the thought paradigm of finite human reflection but not sense or thought in general. More precisely religious praxis (including its distinct production of knowledge),  This is my translation. For the original German version of this quotation see: Natorp (1929), p. 116. Also see: Holzhey (1986), pp. 445, 474; Natorp (1918c), p. 35; Natorp (1920), p. 216. 23  I am adopting this label from Kurt Walter Zeidler with a slight modification: differing from Zeidler I also apply it to Paul Natorp’s late thought. While Zeidler surprisingly does not explicitly mark Natorp’s late philosophy as “post-Neo-Kantian”, he—already in the subtitle of his book— uses this label programmatically in relation to Bruno Bauch’s oeuvre. It is, however, rather obvious that Natorp’s last publications are—systematically seen—even further apart from a classical (Neo-)Kantian stance than the works of the abovementioned author. Clear evidence for this assertion can be found in one of Natorp’s own texts, his critical review of the second fully reworked edition of Bauch’s book Immanuel Kant (from 1917). In this review Natorp criticizes Bauch as much as Kant himself for attempting but failing to present a “concrete unification of Ought and Being” in a philosophical system and notes that he instead hopes to publish a more successful alternative (meaning his own philosophical system) in the near future. In general, the old Natorp (after 1914)—Zeidler himself underlines this fact several times—much more has to be considered a speculative-dialectically logical Idealist along the lines of Hegel and (the later) Fichte than a (Neo-)Kantian of some sort. See: Natorp (1918a), pp.  426–59; esp. 428, 459; Zeidler (1995), pp. 31–47. 24  This is my translation. For the German version of this exact formulation see: Holzhey (1986), p. 474. An almost identical formulation is to be found in: Natorp (1918d), p. 35. Another very close formulation appears in: Natorp (1911), p. 115. Natorp in his meta-critical postscript to the second reworked edition of Plato’s Theory of Ideas from 1922 as well as in a newspaper article of the same year and his lectures on Philosophical Systematic from 1923 can also use a slightly differing formulation which I have added in squared brackets: instead of “on this boundary” he writes “in [...] this boundary”. Compare: Natorp (1961a), p. 512; Natorp (1922a); Natorp (2000), p. 401. 22


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according to Natorp’s reconception, reveals itself as the cultural-contextually specific, performative realization and habitual embodiment of the boundary of humanity or human reason itself. Due to its principial self-referentiality this boundary carries the crucial implication of a final-justified and -justifying positive and, that way, in theoretical terms definitive and in practical terms eminently instructive sense of boundary without an outside. In other words, this notion of boundary equals nothing short of a complete paradoxication of the conventionally negative preconception of what a boundary is and what it means. This paradoxically positive notion of boundary explicitly including but ideally sublating negativity (life’s contingencies; its irreducible signature of finitude) is the reason why the practice of religion, as empirical evidence unmistakably demonstrates, can provide an incommensurable significant and meaningful closure with regards to the innermost self-perception of its practitioners (regarding their freedom or agency). Before I start elaborating on this prolepsis let me briefly introduce the philosopher Paul Natorp, who today even to many scholars of philosophy is little or unknown.

3.1. Paul Natorp: A Brief Introduction to his Philosophical Work Paul Gerhard Natorp (born in Düsseldorf in 1854 and died in Marburg in 1924) was a German philosopher, pedagogue, public intellectual and composer. After Hermann Cohen he is regarded as the second head of the so-called Marburg School of Neo-­ Kantianism,25 which a 100 years ago was acknowledged worldwide as one of the leading26 schools in the German-speaking field of philosophy.27 In fact after Cohen’s death in 1918, and not least due to his own remarkable productivity, Natorp not only advanced to be the new intellectual leader of the Marburgians but in the eyes of many of his contemporaries, among them prominent figures like Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Ernst Cassirer and Hans-Georg Gadamer, was now considered to be one of the main philosophical authorities in the German-speaking sphere. Concerning his philosophical oeuvre Natorp is mainly remembered today for two of his earlier, classically Neo-Kantian works: first, his rather controversial book on Plato’s Theory of Ideas from 1903/1922 (the original German title is: Platos

 For more information on Neo-Kantianism and the Marburg School see: Holzhey and Röd (2004), pp. 28–122; Ollig (1992), pp. 5–52. 26  In the context of the autobiographical retrospective on his intellectual journey Hans-Georg Gadamer (himself a doctoral student of Natorp) describes the Marburg School as “one of the most impressive schools of modern philosophy”. See: Gadamer (1995), p. 60. 27  Given the unfortunate, by now almost 100 years old, desideratum of a comprehensive biography, Jegelka’s monograph Paul Natorp so far is the most detailed source of information regarding Natorp’s life and work. The greatest strength of this book lies in a thorough display of Natorp as a (socio-)politically highly engaged public intellectual. See: Jegelka (1992). 25

Beyond a Dichotomy of Perspectives: Understanding Religion on the Basis of Paul…


Ideenlehre. Eine Einführung in den Idealismus)28; and, second, his General Psychology from 1912 (the original German title is: Allgemeine Psychologie nach kritischer Methode).29 The latter was shown to have had great influence on both the later development of Edmund Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology (during and after the 1920s) as well as Martin Heidegger’s fundamental-ontological rereading of Kant.30 Unfortunately, however, Natorp’s latest post-Neo-Kantian, if you will, “more genuine”31 period of work from roughly around 1912 up to his death, in which his philosophy successively underwent, what might justifiably be called, a speculative turn,32 receives little attention today even though it, demonstrably, had a formative impact on Heidegger’s later, more speculative works following Being and Time as well as noticeably on Gadamer’s Truth and Method33 and would not least in

 Natorp (1903).  Natorp (1912). 30  See: Zeidler (1995), pp. 32–3. For Husserl’s relation to Natorp’s General Psychology see: Kern (1964). For Heidegger’s relation to Natorp before Being in Time see: Kisiel (2002), pp. 29–32. 31  Knittermeyer (Natorp’s closest doctoral student), Hans-Georg Gadamer (one of Natorp’s last doctoral students) and—under some reserve—Wilhelm Siebel all report independently from each other that Hermann Cohen’s departure in 1912 from his position at Philipps-University Marburg to his new position at the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies in Berlin had a considerable relieving effect on Natorp’s philosophical work. See: Knittermeyer, Hinrich: Zur Entstehungsgeschichte der “Philosophischen Systematik”, in: Natorp (2000), p. XIX; Gadamer (1995), p.  223; Siebel (1927), p. 602. 32  Natorp frequently speaks of this speculative turn himself using expressions like the religiously connoted term of “repentance” (German: “Umkehr”), the musicological formulation “inversion” (German: “Umkehrung”) and the mystical-theological “inward-turning” (German: “Innenwendung”). See for instance: Natorp (1918e), p. 11; Natorp (1923a), p. 166; Natorp (2000), p.  124. For a well-versed investigation into the notoriously underrated relation between lateNatorp’s speculative turn and Heidegger’s “Kehre” see: von Wolzogen (1984), pp.  152–63. Moreover, see: Footnote 34. 33  Even if Natorp’s late lectures on “Philosophical Systematic” (German: “Philosophische Systematik”) were only edited and published by his son, Hans Natorp, in 1958 (actually Hans Natorp just published their latest version stemming from the summer semester of 1923; the extensive manuscripts of the previous versions from 1920 and 1922 have not been fully edited and published yet), Gadamer as Natorp’s last doctoral student was of course very familiar with their main ideas ever since the 1920s. It is, therefore, astounding that, without any mention of Natorp, Gadamer develops one of the key concepts of his own magnum opus, Truth and Method (1960), namely the idea that “Being” (German: “Sein”) has to be understood as performative “self-presentation” (German: “Sich-darstellen”) through “language” (German: “Sprache”), in unmistakable proximity to Natorp’s explication of “the wondrous fact of language” (German: “die wundersame Tatsache der Sprache”) that without question was the central idea of his late work. “Language” (German: “Sprache”), following Natorp, performatively presents every possible being (“X”) and its sense (“A”) equiprimordially in the form of a medial, neither active nor passive, “self-presentation” (German: “Sichdarstellen”). In the context of his lectures on practical philosophy that were published posthumously in 1925, that Gadamer also undoubtedly must have known (even before they were published), Natorp even identifies “Being” itself (German: “Sein über allem Sein”, “Ur-Sein”) with that all-giving self-presentation (German: “das Letztgebende”). See: Gadamer (2010), pp. 387–494; esp. 487, 490. And compare: Natorp (2000), pp. 22–24, 386–387; Natorp (1925), pp. 10–11, 242–274; esp. 250–251, 256–257, 272–273. 28 29


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this regard be worth a (more) thorough study.34 During this last period Natorp worked with enormous intensity, “day for day, night for night”35 as he stated in a personal note, on an ambitious project, a philosophical systematic of culture and society as a whole that he initially, from 1917 onwards, entitled “General Logic” (German: “Allgemeine Logik”)36 and later, since 1922, renamed “Philosophical Systematic” (German: “Philosophische Systematik”).37 I will provide a more elaborate summary of this project later. One of the central elements, or more precisely the capstone, of this project was—and that way I am coming back to my main topic— the Logic of Boundary. From here I can proceed to a problem-oriented reconstruction of Natorp’s Logic of Boundary on the backdrop of its intellectual, mainly work-immanent but also historical context, without which this undertaking is hardly realizable.

3 .2. The Contextual Intentions Behind Natorp’s Project of his Logic of Boundary First of all, I have to answer the question what the historical-contextually situated intentions behind Natorp’s Logic of Boundary were. As I already stated, on the most basic level Natorp intended to rethink and to justify the notion of religion from the standpoint of reason. This description remains accurate but in regards to the contemporary context there is more to the intentions that drive Natorp’s late religion-­ thematic philosophical project. Namely, Natorp conceived of his Logic of Boundary as an explicit alternative to philosophy of religion, a philosophical discipline that was already well established in Germany since the end of the eighteenth century. More specifically, he sought to overcome the dependence of the existing religio-­ philosophical projects of his time from a deadlocked essentialist Christo- and/or Judeo-centric (theological) as well as, basing on the paradigm of finite human

 The German philosopher Christoph von Wolzogen has extensively published on this issue. See e.g.: von Wolzogen (1988), pp.  313–337; von Wolzogen (1994), pp.  397–417; von Wolzogen (1984). Also see: Noack (1965), p.  153. Sebastian Luft effectively disregarding the abovementioned literature comes to a diametrically opposed conclusion. Compare: Luft (2015), p. 104. 35  See: Natorp (1923b), p. 169. 36  See exemplary: Ibid., 160–186; esp. 167–177. 37  In the summer semester 1917 Natorp gave his first lectures on “General Logic and Theoretic” (German: “Allgemeine Logik und Theoretik”). During the summer semester 1920 he then entitled these lectures “General Logic as Systematic of Philosophy” (German: “Allgemeine Logik als Systematik der Philosophie”). By the summer semester 1922 he finally changed the title to “Philosophical Systematic” (German: “Philosophische Systematik”). This reconstruction was only possible because I was allowed access to Paul Natorp’s Nachlass stored under the signature Ms. 831 in the archive of the library of Philipps-Universität Marburg. The same is true for knowledge I present in the footnotes 33, 43 and 101. In this regard I owe special thanks to the people responsible for the archive especially Dr. Bernd Reifenberg and Gesine Brakhage. 34

Beyond a Dichotomy of Perspectives: Understanding Religion on the Basis of Paul…


reflection, finitist and reductionist, often Kantian-ethicistic,38 pre-understanding of religion. This two-sidedly prejudiced pre-understanding in his eyes posed a considerable obstacle for a rigorously systematic, philosophical work on the (logical) principles of religion and, that way, on a reasonably justified, adequate and just reconception of religion. Natorp’s discipline-related reform efforts, therefore, are characterized by a critical, strictly methodical investigation concerning what philosophy justifiably has to say about religion in general, without falling into the dangers of essentialism and reductionism and, thereby, violating both the universality or the autonomy of the notion of religion as much as the status of philosophy as an unprejudiced methodical science of final justification.39 Not least concerned with the problem of essentialism, Natorp, nevertheless, did not “construe” his reconception of the notion of religion “out of the blue” without actually studying particular religious traditions and trying to gain substantial inside into them. Quite the opposite, he was personally invested in an intensive study of European and non-­European, historical and present formations of religion. His profound appreciation or even reverence for Bengali author, musician and Nobel prizewinner in literature in 1913, Rabindranath Tagore, is just one of the many vivid signs of this attitude of his.40

3 .3. The Work-Immanent Systematic Context of the Logic of Boundary Focusing now on the work-immanent systematic context the first important point to mention is that Natorp’s Logic of Boundary is grounded in the abovementioned speculative turn41 of his philosophical thought. This turn, starting in 1912 after the failure of the conceptual framework of his General Psychology, mainly falls into the years of war 191442–1918, when Natorp purposefully rethought the Idealism of  Actually, it was not least his long-term Marburgian colleague Hermann Cohen’s philosophy of religion that in Natorp’s eyes represented such an ethicistic reductionism of religion along the lines of Kant. See: Natorp (1918a), p. 34. 39  Concerning the fundamental intention behind his Logic of Boundary, namely the attempt to overcome the essentialist and reductionist tendencies of the philosophy of religion of his days, Natorp wrote paradigmatically in a draft of a letter addressed to theologian Wilhelm Siebel that is dated only one day before his death (my translation): “This is not philosophy of religion but contains everything that philosophy has to say about religion.” For the original version see: Siebel (1927), p. 599. 40  After a personal conversation with Tagore in Darmstadt (in June 1921) Natorp published an essay in which he describes the Nobel prizewinner in literature from 1913 as a “wondrous man”. See: Natorp (1921a). Also see: Natorp (1921b). Gadamer also reports that the late Natorp used to read dramas by Tagore to a small circle of his students and friends at his house on Sundays. See: Gadamer (1995), p. 19. 41  See: Footnote 23. 42  Natorp himself in an expressive or actually “confessional” passage of his essay “Student and World-view” (German: “Student und Weltanschauung”) points to the beginning of the war as the 38


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Heraclites, Plato, Plotinus, Eckhart, Cusanus, Leibniz,  Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Schleiermacher and, last but not least, Hegel.43 More concretely, during this time Natorp undertook a vital transition from a typical Neo-Kantian meaning analytic-regressive to a synthetic-progressive or speculative-­dialectically logical reading of Kant’s transcendental method mainly following Hegel but also Fichte.44 In the course of this speculative turn Natorp developed a new system programme that he—as mentioned before—first called General Logic and later changed to Philosophical Systematic. This system programme, basing on the central notion of sense or, as Natorp also puts it, “the Logos itself”45 (that effectively takes the place of the notion of reason or thought in Hegel or similarly in Kant),46 has to be described as the attempt of a comprehensive, philosophical encyclopaedic system of the whole of culture and society in the form of a radically self-explicating and, that way, final-justifying and final-justified doctrine of categories—needless to say, this programme truly was a major project.47 As said the Logic of Boundary was nothing less than the capstone of this programme. In order to prevent serious misunderstandings I must at least note here that this project by no means should be mistaken for something even loosely related to conventional, classic-Aristotelian formal logics. Instead Natorp’s idea was to constructively overcome two constitutive elements or “principles” of formal logics following, more or less, the Aristotelian model: first of all, Natorp does not maintain the dogmatic disjunction of form and content (concerning sense or thought) and, second, he affirms the notion of contradiction as a necessary moment of truth (echoing Kant’s notion

starting point of his turn (my translation): “It literally struck me concerning the terrible event of this war, I can almost say, exactly since the first of August 1914 [the date of the German Empire’s declaration of war against the Russian Empire], and since then no day, almost no hour let loose of me. I asked myself: What are you doing all the time? Can it really satisfy you and those that you are meant to educate? Epistemology [German: “Erkenntnistheorie”], ever again epistemology, Plato and Kant, and Kant and Plato; barely the post-Kantians, and the pre-Kantians, the Old almost entirely in relation to Kant and Plato, Plato and Kant and—epistemology. That is your world! That is called your world.” For the original text see: Natorp (1918b), p. 7. 43  An important role in this process has to be ascribed to Natorp’s lectures on Kant and the postKantian Idealists (“Geschichte der deutschen Philosophie von Kant bis Hegel”) during the winter semester 1916/1917. The hand-written manuscript of these lectures is stored in the archive of the library of Philipps-Universität Marburg under the signature Ms. 831, A11 (see: footnote 37). Also see: Natorp (2000), p. X. 44  For an explanation of the distinction between an analytic-regressive and synthetic-progressive reading of Kant’s transcendental see: Zeidler (2013), pp. 85–111. 45  For Natorp’s trans-subjective-objective notion of the “Logos itself” (as the productive medium of sense or thought) see for example: Natorp (1961b), p. 526. 46  Already in his Logical Foundations of the Exact Sciences (German: “Die Logischen Grundlagen der exakten Wissenschaften”) from 1910 Natorp introduced a transcendental-logical notion of sense more or less “replacing” the (classical) Kantian notion of reason. See: Natorp (1921a), p. 1–52. 47  There are obvious parallels to Hegel’s (mature) philosophical project that Natorp does not hesitate to admit. See for example: Natorp (2000), pp. 68, 82.

Beyond a Dichotomy of Perspectives: Understanding Religion on the Basis of Paul…


of “synthetic judgments a priori”48 as exhibited in the Prolegomena and, even more, Hegel’s first habilitation thesis: “contradictio est regula veri, non contradictio falsi”49,50). With both his speculative turn and the parallel development of a new system programme culminating in the Logic of Boundary, Natorp, first and foremost, aimed at—broadly speaking—constructively surmounting the thought paradigm of finite human reflection. Answering the question about the contextually motivated intentions behind the Logic of Boundary, I implicitly  addressed this point already. In systematic perspective more precisely expressed, Natorp was concerned with a resolution of the intricately entangled, logico-metaphysical problems of final justification51 and mediation52; meaning the problem entanglement of a final justified mediation between the form and the content of knowledge, the universal or the community and the individual, logics and life etc.53 It is namely this entanglement that the thought paradigm of finite human reflection ultimately falls short of tackling. Actually, the paradigm, consisting in the generalized and dogmatized, yet unjustified and unjustifiable, logico-metaphysical idea that the medium of sense or thought  See: Kant (2001), p. 18.  See: Hegel (2013), p. 533. 50  In his lectures on Philosophical Systematic from 1923 Natorp openly states that his “acknowledgment of the full positivity not only of negation but also of contradiction” is one of the “point[s], in which [he] entirely agree[s] with Hegel”. See: Natorp (2000), p. 61. 51  Ulrich Barth and Christoph von Wolzogen both indepenent from each other hold that the neologism “Letztbegründung”, the German expression for final justification, was coined by Paul Natorp. However, it actually was Georg Simmel that introduced the German adjective “letztbegründend” (English: “final justifying”) from which the noun “Letztbegründung” stems in the epistemological part of his The Philosophy of Money published in 1900. Natorp seems to have adopted the adjective from Simmel using it for the first time in his book from 1911 with the title Philosophy. Its Problem and its Problems. Both Barth and Von Wolzogen point mistakenly to Natorp’s Plato’s Theory of Ideas from 1903 as the text in which Natorp supposedly should have introduced the adjective. Apart from their common general error they commit another mistake together in identifying the text in which Natorp first used the adjective: although pointing to the first edition of Plato’s Theory of Ideas from 1903 both of them cite the second revised edition of the book from 1922 that indeed features the expression while the first edition does not—in the first edition Natorp speaks of a “letzte radikale Begründung” (English: “final radical justification”). Concerning the astonishing “career” of the expression I can add that Husserl (a friend and correspondent of Natorp) maybe adopting it from Natorp used the said adjective in 1913 in the context of his widely received and highly influential book Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology. See: Simmel (1900), p. 61; Natorp (1911), p. 71. And compare: Natorp (1903), p. 192. With: Natorp (1961b), p. 192. See: Barth (2003), pp. 6–7; Von Wolzogen, Es gibt, 332 footnote 14. Also see: Albert (1991), pp. 1–34 and 257–263. 52  For further information about and investigation into the complex entanglement of the questions of last justification and mediation as (one of) the most fundamental and pressing philosophical problems see: Zeidler (2016), pp. 10–60. 53  The most concise formulation of these complexly entangled problems that is also frequently quoted in Natorp research reads as follows (my translation): “Two [?] questions I want to bring to attention [...]: the [question] of the final universalization of the problem of logics, and its ultimate sharpening towards the question of the individual.” See: Natorp (1918c), p. 428. Also see: Cassirer (1925), p. 289. 48 49


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itself is categorically negative, abstractly formal or (somehow) dependent and its products, therefore, only meaningful in a strictly limited and contingent way, is nothing different than the many-faced aporetic perpetuation of the said problem-entanglement.

3 .4. Establishing the Starting Point and Standpoint of Natorp’s Post-Neo-Kantian Project Here is a brief reconstruction of Natorp’s fundamental idea or inside that functions as the systematic “starting point”54 and, consequently, the constitutive standpoint of his whole attempt to overcome the thought paradigm of finite human reflection and its aporia.55 Natorp—undeniably inspired by Aristotle’s influential elenctic method as well as Descartes’ Meditationes—rethought the problem of radical scepticism or “nihilism”56 as manifestation of the (negative) extreme of the thought paradigm of finite human reflection and found the following: even for the radical sceptic there is no possibility to deny that he/she, while presupposing the “complete negation”57 of true sense/thought, in his/her most fundamental doubt about and/or iterated questioning of knowing has to always already presuppose two, therefore, inseparable aspects or moments of sense/thought itself: validity and meaning. In a stricter systematic, logico-metaphysical view these aspects imply the unity of the difference— or as Natorp pointedly expresses it the “binity” (German: “das Zweieinige”)—of “being and sense.”58 This needs further explication: as far as the radical sceptic insists that his/her doubting or questioning of knowledge makes any sense at all, he/ she has to presume both, first, that his/her doing is somehow meaningful and, second, that at the same time it is valid. In other words, the sceptic nolens volens has to committ himself/herself to the silent presupposition that sense itself most fundamentally59is,60 meaning that sense itself cannot be negated and that nothing (be  Natorp speaks explicitly of a “starting point of philosophy” in this regard. See: Natorp (1923b), pp. 121–128. The same text is to be found in: Natorp (2000), pp. 72–82. 55  Natorp explicates this idea several times. For some of his clearest explications see: Ibid., pp. 72–4, 21, 32. 56  See: Ibid., p. 73. 57  See: Ibid. 58  See: Ibid., p. 72. 59  As I will explicate in the following, it would be more precise to formulate: sense itself is the fundament or better the foundation; and this foundation is its own dialectical (self-)founding. Natorp highlights this idea in the context of the meta-critical post-scriptum for the second edition of Plato’s Theory of Ideas. See: Natorp (1961a), pp. 463–467; esp. 463. 60  Natorp is everything but alone with his inside in the systematic, and actually logico-metaphysical, inescapability or non-negateability of sense. Influential authors like Edmund Husserl, Ernst Cassirer, Jean Hyppolite, Niklas Luhmann and Jean-Luc Nancy (and many other less influential authors), each in their own way, held or hold the position that sense is the unnegatable, operational principle or principial medium of human knowing (knowledge production). A less well-known author who seems to have taken up on Natorp’s notion of sense is Richard Kroner. For Kroner’s— in my opinion—adaptation of Natorp’s notion of sense see: Kroner (1928), pp. 1–16; esp. 3, 11, 13. 54

Beyond a Dichotomy of Perspectives: Understanding Religion on the Basis of Paul…


it abstract or concrete) can be thought apart from its undeniable foundationality. While the radical sceptic might call the positivity of all finite knowledge into question (accurately arguing for its negativity), he/she, in claiming the unattainability of truth or true knowledge as the negative boundary of sense or thought in general, cannot contest the more fundamental reality that his/her own reasoning is implicitly negating this very idea logically via a performative self-contradiction.61 Natorp can, thus, conclude: Consequently, stands; because [!], whatever might fall, the binity: sense-ful Being, being-­ ful Sense, cannot fall.62

3.5. The Systematic Foundations of the Logic of Boundary From this idea or insight manifold and far-reaching consequences arise that—in the given framework—I will condense into a series of four complexly interrelated aspects: (1) the ultimate positivity of sense as last justification, (2) the principial self-referentiality of sense, (3) the inseparability of sense- and self-consciousness as the sense-mediality of the human Self and (4) the complete (self-)realization of the sense-medial Self as the paradoxically, positive boundary of human (self-)conscious life in its specific negation-logical form. The unfolding of this series of aspects will complete the necessary systematic context for my problem-oriented reconstruction of the notion of religion according to Natorp’s Logic of Boundary. Metaphorically speaking, like a ladder rung by rung it will lead directly into the midst of the Logic of Boundary. The subsequent reconstruction of the Logic of Boundary itself will consist in nothing different than a religion-focused in-depth elaboration on the positive notion of boundary that was developed over the course of the explication of the said series of aspects. (1) Following Natorp, the medium of thought or sense, first and foremost, reveals as positive,63 yet dynamic64 in the sense of an originally productive and continuative, as well as fallible and corrigible (or generally formable) idea of mediation or

 If this argumentation by Natorp is not accepted for argumentation-logical reasons since it—following the argumentative figure of the Elenchos—by design shifts the burden of proof to the sceptic (that sharply formulated can also be rejected as a “straw man”) and, all in all, is only capable of an indirect justification (via negationis), there is an alternative: Kurt Walter Zeidler (through a detailed analysis of Plato’s later theory of ideas as well as Aristotle’s, Hegel’s and Peirce’s explications of the logic of inference) has developed a highly elegant and convincing argumentation to reach the same goal of a constructive overcoming of the paradigm of finite human reflection. See: Zeidler (2017), pp. 23–34, 132–164. 62  This is my translation. For the German original see: Natorp (2000), p. 72. 63  Already in the context of a lecture held in front of the Kant Society in Berlin on 8 December 1913 Natorp pointed to this positivity of sense when he insistently argued for the notion of a logical “coincidence” of thought (or sense) and being. See: Natorp (1914), pp. 3–32; esp. 12. 64  Highlighting the dynamicity of thought/sense Natorp coins the notion of a “motion-sense” of thought/sense (German: “Bewegungssinn”). See: Natorp (2000), p. 74. 61


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determination, exceeding but entailing the paradigm of finite human reflection. Furthermore, human (self-)conscious thought—this is especially important—cannot leave behind or circumvent this, therefore, irreducible or ultimate positivity of sense.65 Quite the opposite, the inescapability66 of this positivity implies exactly that kind of radical (epistemic) first- and lastness whose “existence” is either categorically denied, ignored or distorted (as something “subjective”, transcendent or even illusionary) by the paradigm of finite human reflection. Even more, the medium of sense in its ultimate positivity constitutes the final justificational foundation or better (self-)founding of all of human knowledge production, in and by which even the sceptic’s self-contradictory claim of a supposed impossibility of true knowledge (positing sense as totally negative) and, consequently, (self-)contradiction or negativity in general is founded (yet not per se justified; this is rather where the self-­ corrigibility of sense comes or can come into play). Paradoxically, the medium of sense, precisely because of the distinct uniqueness of its positivity or “givenness” is not passively “accepting”, but originally founding (although again not per se justifying) and consummating all negativity, entailing the relative positivity of all immanent, finite and contingent realities, in the first place. As a consequence, mediation in general, and that of course includes knowledge production, rooting in the ultimate positivity of sense can no longer be thought consistently in line with the paradigm of finite human reflection as a two-valued relation (of whichever exact form, be it linear or non-linear) between negativity and positivity, form and content etc.67 (2)  Furthermore, Natorp—in close relation to Hegel and, as he repeatedly insists,68 Heraclites and Plato—infers that the only consistent way to explicate the absolutely unique positivity or “givenness” of sense lies in the speculative-­ dialectically69 logical idea of a “self-giving-to-itself-ness” (German: “Sich-selbst-­ Geben”).70 Natorp explicitly warns that this idea is not to be mistaken for a merely psychological phenomenon. Instead he states that, as the true form of all mediation or determination, it is strictly “non-psychological”71 but “logical [...] [and] systematic in the last radical sense”.72 Getting more concrete, Natorp’s idea of a “self-giving-to-itself-ness” of sense is identical with the notion of a three-valued principially self-referential unity of difference of, firstly, the value of the form which gives,

 Mostly Natorp points to this radical positivity of sense with his notion of “There is” (German: “Es ist” or “Es gibt”). See e.g.: Ibid., p. 78. He also undertakes an attempt to reconstruct this positivity as the fundamental characteristic of subjectivity (or the Self). See: Ibid, pp. 383–96. 66  Due to this inescapability Natorp in a letter to his student and friend Hinrich Knittermeyer (from 20 April 1922) righteously points out sense (or in his terms “the Word”) as “the aporia and the euporia” of (systematic) philosophy and human culture in general. See: Ibid., p. XXXVI. 67  See: Ibid., p. 383–96. 68  See e.g.: Ibid., p. 18. 69  Natorp frequently highlights the dialectical character of the self-giving of sense. For a concise and clear passage see: Natorp (1923a), pp. 176–177. 70  See e.g.: Ibid., p. 22–3, 386–87. 71  See: Natorp (1925), p. 259. 72  Ibid. 65

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secondly, the value of the (performative or processual) formation which is the performance (or process) of giving and, thirdly, the value of the content which is given.73 What, furthermore, is implied in this notion is that the “method”74 or operationality of the medium of sense (or thought), its specific mediality, cannot be equated with an active or passive form in (whatever) relation with a passive or active content. In analogy to the third genus verbi of the Greek language, the medio-­ passive voice, it rather might be thought as the “medial”75 formation (or self-­ formation) of a form that always already “self-regulatorily constitutes”76 its own mediation in the sense of a performative (or processual) form-content unity.77 In the sense of this unconditional, principial78 medium, that is dynamically productive and continuative, differentiating and unifying itself as the form and content of all knowledge, sense truly is the message and the only message.79 (3)  Synthesizing what was reconstructed so far in a reference back to its aforementioned inescapabilty, sense, along the lines of Natorp’s explication,  For this idea see also: Zeidler (2015), pp. 213–26; esp. 225–26.  Explicating the absolutely unique or singular operationality of the medium of sense or—as I also put it with a reconstructive terminus technicus—the specific mediality sense, Natorp uses the notion of “method” (German: “Methode”) in the sense of a “methodicity of the law in its complete universality” (German: “Methodik des Gesetzes in ihrer vollen Allgemeinheit”) as the positive boundary of human reason. See: Natorp (1918c), p. 28; Natorp (1918d), p. 35. Also see: Natorp (2000), pp. 120, 125. And compare Natorp’s earliest attempt of this explication dating to the year 1914: Holzhey (1986), p. 92. 75  Natorp elaborates on this idea several times in great detail. See for example: Natorp (1925), pp. 248–74; esp. p. 264. Also see: Natorp (2000), pp. 22, 386 and esp. p. 370. And: Natorp (1920), pp. 173–174. Also: Natorp (1903), pp. 465–66; esp. 466 footnote 1. 76  For an in-depth explication of the notion of a self-regulatory constitutive principiality see: Zeidler (2011), pp. 297–320; esp. 312. 77  It might be of interest that Natorp’s notion of the mediality of sense prefigures a significant aspect of Derrida’s attempt to conceptualize his (non-)notion of “différance”. Compare: Derrida (1999), p. 37. 78  Natorp highlights the principiality of sense several times. One of the clearest passages is to be found in his Practical Philosophy, where he says: “The sense still by all means is the first, the absolutely radical.” In his posthumously published lectures on the Philosophical Systematic Natorp explicates the same idea in similar words: “Nevertheless, at the end even beyond this [questioning] there is something more radical; the sense, the sense of sense itself; since questioning means, searching sense, missing sense.” In the context of a slightly earlier work, Social-Idealism, Natorp points more to the characteristic of self-sufficiency that goes along with the principiality of sense: “[...] the ‘sense’ [is] something containing itself [German: “ein auf sich Stehendes”], interpreting itself and, thereby, forth and forth explaining and deepening itself.” See: Natorp (1925), p. 250. Additionally: Natorp (2000), pp. 28–30; Natorp (1920), p. 232. 79  The very same systematical idea of a differentiated as well as dynamic unity of form and content already appears in Hermann Cohen’s programmatic formula that “the production itself is the product” (German: “Die Erzeugung selbst ist das Erzeugnis.”). The formulation above also loosely references Marshall McLuhan’s famous programme slogan that the “medium is the message”. However, in a critically systematic, speculative-dialectically logical perspective McLuhan’s slogan in the strict sense would really only apply for the medium of sense in its absolute unique mediality—not even for (national) languages as media of communication. See: Cohen (1922), p. 29. For the theory behind McLuhan’s “slogan” see: McLuhan and Fiore (1967). 73 74


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constitutes the unconditional principial medium of the totality of human (self-)conscious life, so deeply rooted in the human Self and vice versa that it can only be “left” for the price of a loss of (self-)consciousness or life.80 Natorp himself marks this equiprimordiality of the human Self and sense as the unconditional condition of possibility regarding the Self’s (self-)mediation and (self-)determination or simply as the very own operationality of the Self, when he says: [...] [T]he birth of the sense-consciousness [...] is synchronous with the birth of the self-­ consciousness, that which is the originally sense-giving and not merely sense-receiving.81

Even the most immediate forms of consciousness, emotions, desires, moods or sensual perception, as soon as they appear to us (to our “I”), are (in qualitatively differing “degrees”) interspersed with the mediating operation of sense.82 As soon as we (as the “I”) realize and become aware that there is “something” (including the sensations of our body), this “something” already appears, or presents itself as “something” to us (as the “I”) mediated through and within sense. We can, thus, say this “something” and we (as the “I”), meaning our perception of it (the “something-­ ness” of this “something”), are mutually mediated by the medium of sense as the self-mediating operationality of our Self.83 What is implied here is that, paradoxically, the sense-medial Self has its outside within itself. Let’s for example say you see a tree. If you are not a solipsist, it is absolutely clear for you that the tree is not just there because you see it. However, the tree only appears to your consciousness as being separate from you, outside of you, as a result of an internal (self-)differentiation (between you as “I” and the tree) performed by your Self. (4) Taking this idea further, the sense-medial Self, under the important condition of the full (self-)realization of its principial mediality (“self-giving-to-itself-ness”), demonstrates to be the beginning and the end, the ultimate, yet not negative but positive boundary of human (self-)conscious life. This positive notion of boundary that points to no abstractly independent outside equals a complete paradoxication of the conventional understanding of the notion of boundary (that is mostly derived from experiences and observations based in the object-world to which it usually applies). Clearly, this paradoxality in regards to the conventional, negative notion of boundary needs further explication: the conventional understanding of boundary implies the notion of a negation, limitation or dependence of something or somebody by, from  Hegel expresses an analogous idea when he introduces the notion of a “natural logic” (“natürliche Logik”) implying that through and within language logical forms (categories or thought-determinations) always already are an irreducible element of human (self-)conscious life. See: Hegel (1984), p. 10. 81  See: Natorp (1925), p. 250. 82  Interestingly Jean-Luc Nancy in his Hegel reconstruction introduces a quite similar notion of sense. See: Nancy (2011), pp. 205–214. 83  Natorp thematizes the deepest rooting “intimacy” of sense concerning all human life referring to the example of an infant that “creates” or “makes” its own sense out of its experiences and sensual perceptions without being involved in—so to say—“language games” at this early stage of development; a valid developmental-psychological observation that by the way also serves Natorp as an argument for the irreducible primacy of sense over language. See: Natorp (1925), p. 248. 80

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or in regards to something or somebody else. On the contrary, the sense-mediality of the human Self identifies insofar with a positive boundary as, in its complete (self-) realization, it not just implicitly (as for example in our daily routines) but explicitly excludes nothing  (that is accessible for us as “I”); more precisely, it includes or encloses everything by originally disclosing it in its truth and true value. This logicometaphysical radicality is the reason why it has no (abstractly) independent outside. Explicating this thought in greater detail will bring the reconstruction one decisive step further: implicitly, the sense-medial Self—in the manner explicated above—in and through its own principial mediality always already founds and consummates all negativity, particularly involving all immanent, finite and contingent realities or simply immanence as a whole. That way, if made explicit in/through its full (self-)realization, the sense-medial Self cannot take any different negation-logical form than that of the one determined self-relating or, in simplified terms, “double” negation meaning the negation of (all) negativity.84 Precisely this logical form of an ultimate, first and last, (determined) “double” negation, in the sense of a—this is what is crucial here—negation of negation (or negativity), is at the core of the positive, paradoxically all-including notion of boundary. The systematic implications of this negation-logical form are of key importance for the specific characteristics of the positive notion of boundary in general. First of all, it is easy to see that, as an ultimate negation of immanence (or finitude), founding all negativity but also surmounting it in and through itself, the boundary necessarily must be—metaphorically speaking—“located” in an (onto-)logical realm somehow on the “outside” of immanence, in the sense of not being one finite and contingent “fact” “inside” immanence next to others.85 At the same time, however, of course it cannot transcend human reason as a whole, since it, quite the opposite, is nothing but the complete (self-) realization of the sense-medial Self and as such the full unfolding of human reason or the idea of humanity itself. That means that this boundary due to its negationlogical form shows the characteristic of a transcendence that somehow “lies” on the “outside” of immanence but—self-evidently—not in an obscure “beyond” in relation to the logical totality of human reason. Therefore, bringing it in a pointed formulation, this positive boundary of human reason appears as an immanent transcendence meaning the unity of difference or—as Natorp puts it, taking up a central notion of Cusanus—the “coincidence”86 of immanence and transcendence. As such it is transcendent to immanence but remains immanent to the sense-mediality of the Self in respect of its full (self-)realization. Specifying this immanent transcendence systematically equals a further specification of the ­(ultimate) self-relational negation (as the negation-logical form of the positive boundary): the immanent transcendence constitutes itself self-regulatorily as a mutual negation of strictly finite  For Natorp’s explication of the sense of sense as double or self-applying negation see: Natorp (2000), pp. 4, 7, 46, 65–6, 78, 395; Natorp (1921c), p. 29. 85  Most emphatically Natorp stressed this implication of his Logic of Boundary in his last letter, which was published posthumously in 1927. See: Siebel (1927), p.  599. Also see: Natorp (2000), p. 115. 86  See: Ibid. 84


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immanence by abstractly infinite transcendence and vice versa in and through the principiality of a third: namely itself as the whole of this ultimate, self-relating (or “double”) negation. Both immanence (or finitude) and transcendence (or infinity) are two irreducible moments of this whole. Consequently, the (onto-)logical status of the latter does not converge with either one of them as well as it does with both at the same time. While the (onto-)logical status of immanence is that of concrete but finite reality, the (onto-)logical status of transcendence is that of infinite but abstract ideality. The (onto-)logical status of the immanent transcendence, therefore, must be that of a non-abstract ideal-reality or “hyper-­reality”,87 meaning an ideality that (productively as well as continuatively) founds, consummates and, ultimately, sublates reality (the totality of all immanent, finite and contingent “facts”); and that, hence, (as its foundation) is not less but “more than”88 real.89 Yet, the critical objection might arise if this ideal-reality, signifying the ideal sublation of reality plus the mediation of finitude and infinity, is not of merely fantastic or fictitious nature. Countering such and similar concerns with a (re-)elucidation of what was developed so far will carry the specification another significant step further: initially and mainly, in this regard it is just necessary to call to mind that—as elaborated above— the sense-medial Self as the all-founding and -sublating, unconditionally principial medium of the totality of human (self-)conscious life is self-mediated and -mediating itself and it is nothing but this performative or processual self-mediation. Thus, in order to simply be adequate, its complete (self-)realization or (self-)adequation as the positive boundary of humanity can only consist in or “of” the possibly most radical self-application of its own principial mediality (“self-giving-to-itself-ness”). Analogously speaking, then the only possible “matter” of this radical self-application is an actual-self-referential determination of the sense-medial Self’s own “doing”, or differently put, its original-absolute “self-disclosure”.90 In regards to its (onto-)logical status the complete (self-)realization of the sense-medial Self exclusively “exists” in and through the “reality” of its own self-disclosure, and that “reality” must have an ideal-real or “hyper-real”91 (onto-)logical status, simply because otherwise the sense-medial Self in the very attempt to (self-)realize itself would disappear as what it really is by appearing as indistinguishably identical with its own products (negations or determinations). Taking the hyper-real status of this

 See: Ibid., p. 119. And: Natorp (1923a), p. 186.  Ibid. 89  Even if Natorp prefers the “label” of (critical) Idealism, he is clearly an exponent of a pronounced Ideal-Realism. In other words, Natorp holds the position that a consistent Idealist position necessarily must be an Ideal-Realism. He argued for this position already in 1913. See: Natorp (1914), p. 14. 90  Natorp uses different terms referring to the total (self-)realization of the sense-medial Self. “Selfdisclosure” (German: “Selbst-Erschließung”), however, is not only the most genuine but, looking at the originally productive or abductive inference-character of the sense-mediality of the human Self, also systematically seen the most adequate of them all. For Natorp’s use of the term see: Natorp (1920), pp. 213–216, 232–33, 245 and esp. 252. 91  See: Natorp (2000), p. 119. 87 88

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self-disclosure” in account, Natorp consequently speaks of an intellectual or cognitive “elevation [...] into a new dimension”92 of human (self-)conscious life in the context of the performative, total (self-)realization of the sense-medial Self. Following Natorp this new dimension implies but exceeds theoretical (meaning scientific) knowledge production, ethical, legal and economical praxis as well as the arts. However—again—nothing is lost, nothing is excluded in this new dimension per se. Instead, in the light of this new dimension everything is originally disclosed in its truth and in its true value, or more precisely, in a first and last, in theoretical terms definitive and in practical terms ultimately instructive relation or relationship with(in) the Self as the all-relating (self-)relationship. In the sense of this new dimension, this all-relating (self-)relationship, the fully (self-)realized sense-medial Self (as the positive boundary of human reason) is the incommensurably fulfilling, significant and meaningful, closure of the totality of human (self-)conscious life (subjectively as well as inter- or trans-subjectively). And not although, but rather exactly because of this absolute self-disclosure in the sense of an all-enclosing closure, that a priori or principialiter does not exclude anything but includes everything, human beings are able to develop a fundamental and comprehensive sense of selfdetermination or agency. Reaching and explicating the idea of the positive notion of boundary in its distinct negation-logical form, I have established the immediate systematic context, the main theoretical suppositions necessary to understand Natorp’s Logic of Boundary. From here I can progress to the core of my problem-oriented reconstruction. Altogether this reconstruction—as stated before—will entirely consist in an in-­ depth elaboration or, to be precise, a more concretely religion-focused enrichment of the notion of boundary that was just introduced. Following Natorp’s reconception of the notion of religion I will now provide an option for the outsider (of religion) of how to understand religion in a systematic and methodically controlled, non-­ reductionist as well as anti-essentialist manner, that leaves behind the problematic dichotomy of perspectives silently resting in the thought paradigm of finite human reflection.

3 .6. The Problem-Oriented Reconstruction of the Logic of Boundary Allow me a programmatic statement beforehand: I will present Natorp’s Logic of Boundary as an invitation for the outsider to systematically grasp and, this way, intellectually acknowledge religious praxis (and knowledge production) so to speak “at eye level” with the insider as a contextually situated, individual’s or group’s concrete realization of the first and last positive boundary of humanity or human reason. For this purpose, however, the outsider has to give up his/her 92

 See: Ibid., p. 116. Also see: Natorp (1921a), pp. 7, 11, 21, 23.


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epistemologically and methodologically howsoever privileged or unprivileged selfpositioning as a so-called uninvolved observer as well as a supposedly participating observer. Neither an abstract and objectifying nor an “immediatizing” and subjectifying attitude towards religion is appropriate in this regard. What is needed is nothing more than an open mind to sense (or thought) itself in its (speculative-dialectically logical) radicality93; and this mindset, attitude or rather standpoint—subjectively re-­enacting the ineluctable principiality and substantiality of sense—so far should already have been reached. In other words, grasping the systematic implications of the positive notion of boundary in their deepest possible significance for the whole of human existence, the outsider actually has already “entered” the intellectual (or “spiritual”) “dimension”94 in which (also) all religions operate each in their own way. Referring back to the ladder metaphor used before, the outsider by climbing up the ladder’s rungs into the midst of the Logic of Boundary simultaneously advanced step-by-step to the “eye level” of the practitioning insider of religion, although of course in a purely systematic manner using a different language (that, nonetheless, is not of reductionist or essentialist nature). As pivotal point of my reconstruction I will use the brilliantly put programme formula of Natorp’s Logic of Boundary, which basically bundles all of its implications in one sentence. This formula—whose citation I have already placed at the beginning of this part—reads as follows: The object of religion is neither to be found within nor beyond the ‘boundaries of humanity’, neither inside nor outside the reach of human experience, but exactly on this boundary.95

Natorp also offers a slightly differing formulation of the same idea in which he does not speak of religion “on” but “in the boundary of humanity”.96 As I will point out, this difference bears systematic importance. Now in the light of the positive notion of boundary this formula presents an astonishingly elegant and compelling option for the outsider of where to locate religion (religious praxis and knowledge production) in relation to human reason and how to understand it accordingly. Above all, this option implies a viable problem solution, an alternative way leading out of the impasse of the false, perspectival dichotomy between an inside perspective “beyond” and an outside perspective “within” human reason that (academic and intellectual) discourses adhering to the thought paradigm of finite human reflection nolens volens perpetuate. On the level of language alone the intermediate position Natorp implies by placing religion on or in the boundary of human reason, meaning neither “within” nor “beyond” it as well

 Natorp speaks in this regard of a “radicalism of logical mindset” (German: “Radikalismus logischer Gesinnung”) or simply a “logical radicalism” (German: “logischer Radikalismus”). See: Natorp (1920), pp.  233, 234. In 1910 Natorp already used the formulation of a “radicalism of logic” (“Radikalismus der Logik”). See: Natorp (1921b), p. 34. 94  See: Footnote 92. 95  This is my translation. For the German original see: Natorp (2000), p. 116. Also see: Holzhey (1986), pp. 445, 474; Natorp (1918d), p. 35; Natorp (1920), p. 216. 96  See: Ibid., p. 234; Natorp (1961a), pp. 468, 504 and esp. 512; Natorp (1922b). 93

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as “within” and “beyond” it at the same time, already insinuates the specific methodical character that is at the heart of this solution option. Starting to make this insinuation explicit, the solution option Natorp’s Logic of Boundary presents does (of course) not reduce to an abstract negation regarding the dogmatically fixed dichotomy. Rather, it consists in a decidedly constructive transgression of this dichotomy through a methodically controlled, logical mediation and, thus, a mediation that systematically seen is not just possible but necessary. More precisely, Natorp’s solution option concentrates in the speculative-dialectically logical idea of a sublation in regards to the abstract and dogmatic negation concerning the possibility of first and last positive knowledge that, intrinsic to the thought paradigm of finite human reflection, causes and maintains the false dichotomy. This, obviously, is where the positive notion of boundary itself ties in for the first time in the context of the Logic of Boundary and, in a first aspect or instance, demonstrates its general systematic centrality—that is the reason why Natorp speaks of a Logic of Boundary in the first place: it is exactly this notion of boundary that in its—just elaborated— negation-logical form of an ultimate self-relational or “double” negation not least manifests as a sublation of the dogmatic and abstract “finitism”97 (or immanentism) that the paradigm of finite human reflection is standing for. Returning to what was developed earlier the positive notion of boundary, as the immanent transcendence that it is, equals a mediation between immanence and transcendence, between finitude and infinity, between the “within” and the “beyond” in relation to human reason. Most importantly—again—it bears in itself the possibility and the actuality of non-abstract, first and last positive knowledge. Against the negative foil of the paradigm of finite human reflection the consequences of this notion for the understanding and evaluation of religion are sheer enormous! The central idea of Natorp’s Logic of Boundary redeems religion from the disastrous98 implications of the thought paradigm of finite human reflection: if non-abused religion in its contextual situatedness claims first- and lastness, principiality and finality, for its (production of) knowledge, seen from the perspective of the Logic of Boundary it is justified in the most fundamental way; and the fact that religion cannot meet the expectations of the thought paradigm of finite human reflection—rather quite the opposite, categorically transgresses its all too restrictively, all too narrowly set and, therefore, negative boundaries—is not a defect of religion but its virtue. On top of that, following from the standpoint of the positive notion of boundary, the humanities, philosophy and theology etc. as well as the “hard” sciences if asking for the final justification, for the unconditional condition(s) of possibility of knowledge production or mediation in general, will, however, from a different angle and embedded in a different language, necessarily arrive in the same intellectual (or “spiritual”) “dimension”99 in which religion operates. They, as well, will (have to) realize the principial

 For Natorp’s elaborate explication of the notion of finitism (German: “Finitismus”) see: Natorp (1920), p. 190. 98  See: Footnote 17. 99  See: Footnote 92. 97


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self-­referentiality of the sense-medial Self as the positive boundary of human reason and, consequently, their own production of knowledge. That means that the difference between academic (or intellectual) and scientific knowledge production, on the one hand, and religious knowledge production, on the other hand, in this precise point (apart from contingently possible, cultural-contextual differences) principially reduces to a non-substantial difference, a difference not in content but in form (language; the specific relation or “ratio” of cognition and emotion, thought and imagination etc.). Epistemologically and/or methodologically seen, it is—as already implied above—in this very sense of grasping and acknowledging the positive notion of boundary in its most fundamental significance and meaningfulness for the whole of human (self-)conscious life, that the outsider of religion can adequately understand religious praxis (and knowledge production) quasi “at eye level” with the religious insider. Concretizing what was just said and further unpacking Natorp’s highly concentrated programme formula in respect of its more specific implications for an adequate understanding of religion, one question suggests itself: what exactly does it mean that religion operates on or in the boundary of human reason? What does the outsider (of religion) have to make out of this formulation that, lacking a reasonable explication, might seem puzzling at first? Referring back to what was developed above, the boundary (of human reason) is nothing different than the sense-medial Self in its complete or, simply, adequate (self-)realization. Since this (self-)adequation of the Self, implying its absolute self-disclosure, is itself identical with “what” the boundary is (and “what” it “consists of”), it also is identical with both the “where” of its “locality” and its “localization”.100 In conclusion, the only consistent way to understand Natorp’s formulation, locating religion on or in the boundary of human (self-)conscious life, lies in the idea that religion positions itself in the performative (self-)realization of the sense-medial Self in its totality, or pointedly put, that the praxis of religion itself is this very performance (more precisely it is a specific form of it). Now the systematic reason for Natorp’s—abovementioned—alternative formulation, pinpointing religion not just on but also in the boundary itself, becomes apparent (and it also becomes apparent that this alteration is not merely a matter of expression): Natorp utilizes the preposition “in” as a performativity marker concerning the determination of religion in relation to the boundary (to “what” and “where” it is).101 Clearly one cannot engage or take part on but in a  In the concrete context of a specific religion this performative realization can happen in—more or less strict—association with one or more natural and or manmade sacred place(s) or space(s), but that must not necessarily be the case. 101  Natorp explicates the fundamentally performative character of religion by referring to Plato’s notion of the “Eros”: first of all, he identifies the Eros itself with “the boundary of humanity” (German: “die Grenze der Menschheit”). Then Natorp continues to point out the mediating performativity of the Eros instituting and maintaining the dialectical relationship between humanity and the Devine. Translating this platonist or—using a slightly ironic but also cherishing nickname for Natorp’s quite original and unique Plato interpretation stemming from his contemporaries— “platorpist” explication by Natorp in my reconstructive terminology, the Eros stands for the sensemediality of the Self in its irreducible programmaticity to performatively (self-)realize or -unfold 100

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p­ erformance, act or process.102 Following from this most fundamental performativity religion indeed is synonymous with doing religion or lived religion (German: “gelebte Religion”). Yet, in its fundamental performativity religion is as well of a radically theoretical or cognitive nature as it is of a radically practical or volitional/ emotional nature. The performative (self-)realization of the sense-medial Self’s totality in/through religious practice allows as much for an extreme concerning the status quo of self-awareness (which is not identical with a psychological notion of self-transparency!) as it does concerning the status quo of self-regulation both of course depending on the given cultural-contextual possibilities. At this point the elaboration caught up with the basic definition of the notion of religion according to Natorp’s Logic of Boundary, which was already introduced above in note form: religion, in all its manifold contextual variations, is (a specific form of) the performative, total (self-)realization of the sense-medial Self and as such it operates on or in the boundary of humanity or human reason (the exact form of this performance, if it includes prayers, rituals, meditation or other technologies of the Self, might of course vary profoundly from context to context).103 Reformulating this definition in greater detail, religion operates on or in the boundary of human reason in the sense of a concrete performative, meaning bodily, psychic and intellectual (or “spiritual”) realization and re-enactment as well as, parallel to it, a habitual internalization and embodiment (subjectivation) of the (context-specifical) totality of the sense-medial Self by “a second”, namely an individual Self. Of course often or even usually more than one individual Self is involved in the performance of religious practice. The individual Self, however, is so to speak the “basic unit” and the conditio sine qua non for any reconstruction of the speculative-dialectically logical notion of religion following Natorp’s Logic of Boundary. This latter, more detailed definition carries a highly significant systematic implication. Unfolding this implication will bring about a final specification of the positive notion of boundary and its negation-logical form that leads an important step deeper, so to speak, into the heart of an adequate and just understanding of religion

itself in its own totality. Looking closer at this performativity character of religion, it implies nothing less than a complete convergence (unity of difference) of theory and praxis. More precisely, as the performance of the sense-medial Self’s absolute self-disclosure religion is the absolute praxis and as such absolutely theoretical (in a non-pejorative sense). The Self “works” here on and in itelf as Self. For Natorp’s boundary-logical notion of the Eros see: Natorp (1961a), pp. 459–513; esp. 512. A slightly more extensive elaboration on the notion of Eros is to be found on the last pages of Natorp’s 1922 lectures on Philosophical Systematic. As alrady mentioned above in footnote 434, unfortunately, this text has not been edited and published yet. The quite extensive manuscript of these lectures is stored in the archive of the library of Philipps-Universität Marburg under the signature Ms. 831 B3 (also see: footnote 37). 102  Natorp developed an elaborate vocabulary trying to express this performative part taking or engagement of the individual Self in religious praxis. The formulation that stands out the most is the “position-taking in the boundary” (German: “Standnehmen in der Grenze”). For this formulation and its precise systematic context see: Natorp (2000), pp. 401–408; esp. 401. 103  Looking at this inevitable performativity specifically, the preposition “in” actually is more precise (than the preposition “on”).


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in Natorp’s “footsteps”. To highlight it, the vital systematic implication here is that the performative forming of the positive boundary, specifically in the context of religious practice, actually always involves two intricately interlaced “aspects”104 or extremes; or more accurately put, the boundary itself performatively emerges here strictly in the form of the irreducible (self-)relationship of two equiprimordial extremes: the embodied and, therefore, immanent “individuality”105 and—as Natorp puts it—the transcendent “universality”106 (each relative to the sense-medial Self).107 It is the irreducible (self-)relationship of both extremes together at once which is constituting the paradoxical, all-including boundary that—again—is nothing different than the total (self-)realization of the sense-mediality of (self-)conscious human life. In order to emphasize the absolute uniqueness of this (self-)relationship Natorp coined the notion of a “boundary relationship” (German: “Grenzbeziehung”108). Looking closer at this irreducible (self-)relationship, a complex “constellation” at the heart of the praxis of religion becomes visible: the doubling or duplexity of the Self. Explicating this complex “constellation” is equivalent to the—just announced— specification: religious practice, meaning the concretely performative (self-)realization of the sense-medial Self in its totality—as developed—can solely take the shape of the most radical self-application of the Self in the sense of its absolute self-disclosure. More specifically—this now is the decisive point of specification— in the context of religion this self-disclosure implies an all-relating (self-)relationship of the Self to or for a Self and vice versa: the universality (of the sense-medial Self) realizes in and through its embodied individuality in the sense of the realization of this embodied individuality (of the sense-medial Self) in and through its universality. According to the positive boundary’s negation-logical form (the form of an ultimate, self-relational or “double” negation) both extremes together, the immanent individuality and the transcendent universality, each as the mutual negation of the other, are constituting the immanently transcendent third of the sense-­ medial Self (in its absolute self-disclosure). In order to well and truly actualize its self-application in the context of religious praxis the sense-medial Self has to unfold itself as individually and, at the same time, as universally as possible. It is in this particular sense that the Self takes the form of the boundary relationship, of an irreducible (self-)relationship that stretches from the concrete immanence of its individuality extreme to its universal transcendence of the universality extreme. Now also a more specific elaboration on the immanent transcendent character of the positive boundary in the context of religious praxis is possible—actually it is more or less present in what was just unfolded: in the context of religion the immanent transcendence of the positive boundary concretely emerges from the self-relational (or “double”) negation of the sense-medial Self’s internal extremes, the

 See: Natorp (2000), p. 116.  See: Natorp (1920), p. 251. 106  See: Ibid. 107  See: Natorp (2000), pp. 116–118. 108  See: Natorp (1918e), p. 127. 104 105

Beyond a Dichotomy of Perspectives: Understanding Religion on the Basis of Paul…


individuality extreme as the, again and again, “lowest point” of immanence and the universality extreme in its “highest” transcendence. Of primary significance is— this, too, was already implicit—that only as the boundary relationship between the universality and the individuality of the sense-medial Self, meaning the performative presence of an individual Self in religious practice, the immanent transcendence of the paradoxically all-including, positive boundary has “existence” at all. Furthermore, of course this elaboration also involves the (onto-)logical status of an ideal-reality, meaning an ideal sublation of all (finite) realities, as well as the idea that, as such, it equals a new dimension of (self-)conscious human life or culture in general. To sum up, in the context of religious praxis the positive boundary establishes itself performatively as the foundational ideal-real dimension of humanity or human reason in and through the mutual (or self-relational) negation of both of the sense-medial Self’s own extremes. Coming now metaphorically speaking to the “Holy of Holies” of Natorp’s reconception of the notion of religion and the end of my reconstruction of it, what is absolutely crucial is the following: under the condition that there is no abuse of religion, the said “new dimension”, implying the all-relating (self-)relationship of the sense-medial Self, is not something abstract, something alien or imposed in relation to the practicing, religious individual Self but rather the performance of its very own most fundamental and true self-awareness and self-regulation. Seen from the perspective of the (practicing) individual Self, the practice of religion presents as its concrete performative (bodily, psychic and intellectual or “spiritual”) (re-)synchronization with the context-specifical totality of the sense-medial Self as its own true Self in all its immeasurably fulfilling meaning and significance. In this respect Natorp speaks of the individual Self’s experience (feeling or mood) of “fulfilment” or “completion” (German: “Ausfüllung”).109 What he implies here is the idea of a—paradoxically put—“boundary experience” that, due to the experienced positivity of the boundary of (self-)conscious human life, is positively fulfilling. Mainly, this (re-)synchronization, being as radically theoretical as practical, implies the production or adaptation of principial, non-contingently positive knowledge. This first and last knowledge is in theoretical terms of definitive quality and in practical terms it is of most instructive quality. In this very sense of an integral (self-)orientation of highest value it enables the ultimate closure of the individual Self’s innermost self-­ perception and marks the beginning and the end of the contextual world it is living in. That means, in the context of religious practice, the individual Self performatively embeds (and/or finds itself embedded) in an all-encompassing truth, the relation or relationship with its own fully unfolded sense-medial Self (not just “I” or Ego) as the positive boundary of the cultural and social context of its life. In this sense one can also speak of a self-transcendation (or total self-unfolding) of the individual self up to the contextually available totality of the sense-medial Self. This way the individual Self of course also explicitly transcends itself towards the ultimate truth of what it implicitly (during its everyday life; or maybe before its


 See: Natorp (1918d), p. 36; Natorp (1918e), p. 28, Holzhey (1986), p. 117.


J. Hensold

conversion or initiation) always already is/was and what it should be. Against this backdrop, it cannot be stressed enough that through the practice of non-abused religion, parallely involving the praxeological aspect of the permanent development of a religious habitus, the individual Self can realize the deepest possible levels of selfregulatory determination (meaning the self-regulation of desire and will) and, thus, a profoundly deepened sense of self-determination or agency (freedom) in general—even if the context-specifical formation of these notions does not converge with “Western” or individualistic expectations. Systematically seen, moreover, in the light of the boundary relationship (with/in the sense-medial Self), the ideal-real dimension of the positive boundary, all of the (negative) contingencies and deficits of the individual Self’s life, including the extreme of its own death as well as the death of its close(st) relatives and friends etc., potentially can be sublated.110 Meaning as terrible and hurtful as the contingent events of life ever might be for the individual Self, they do not per se carry an “existential” danger for the ideal-reality of its ultimate closure—that, so to speak, always has the “first and last word”. As developed above, the performative presence of the paradoxically all-including, positive boundary is identical with the ideal sublation of all finite realities revealing and preserving their true meaning and significance. The individual Self, principially, can always rely on this indestructible truth.

4. Conclusion Looking back I hope that, following the late post-Neo-Kantian thought of Paul Natorp, I was able to present a convincing, notion of religion that leaves both the truth claim(s) of religious traditions and the uniqueness of their (production of) knowledge untouched. If this is the case, then I should have succeeded in demonstrating the possibility of a non-reductionist and equally anti-essentialist (or undogmatic) academic understanding of religion. Studying religion, coming from Natorp’s Logic of Boundary, the outsider, systematically seen, has the chance to stand “side-­ by-­side” with the insider, maybe not (yet) familiar with the exact context-specifical form the positive boundary of human (self-)conscious life takes for the insider (and of course not sharing his or her concrete personal experience that we are unable to directly share anyway), but in any case grasping its general sense intellectually. That way the dichotomy between outside and inside perspectives on religious praxis and knowledge production, as perpetuated by discourses adhering to the thought paradigm of finite human reflection, loses every substantially dividing quality. I conclude with a quotation by Paul Natorp:

 Natorp has developed the speculative-dialectical idea of an ideal sublation of death, that he poetically articulates as “the last death: the death of death itself” (German: “der letzte Tod: der Tod des Todes selbst”), in a short essay entitled About the Actual Death (German: “Vom echten Tode”). See: Natorp (1921c), pp. 27–31.


Beyond a Dichotomy of Perspectives: Understanding Religion on the Basis of Paul…


[...] [I]f [human reason] understands itself adequately, if it, as ‘Critique’, grasps itself in relation to its own boundary [German: “Begrenzung”], then it finds itself contained in this boundary infinitely [...].111

References Albert, Hans. 1991. Traktat über kritische Vernunft. Tübingen: UTB. Barth, Ulrich. 2003. Religion in der Moderne. Tübingen: Mohr. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1993. Sozialer Sinn. Kritik der theoretischen Vernunft. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. ———. 2012. Entwurf einer Theorie der Praxis. Auf der ethnologischen Grundlage der kabylischen Gesellschaft. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. Cassirer, Ernst. 1925. Paul Natorp. 24 Januar 1854–17 August 1924. Kant-Studien 30: 273–298. Cohen, Hermann. 1922. Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. Berlin: Cassirer. Colpe, Carsten. 1990. Über das Heilige. Versuch, seiner Verkennung kritisch vorzubeugen. Frankfurt: Hain. Deleuze, Gilles. 2007. Differenz und Wiederholung. München: Fink. Derrida, Jacques. 1999. Randgänge in der Philosophie. Wien: Passagen. Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1995. Philosophische Lehrjahre. Eine Rückschau. Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann. ———. 2010. Wahrheit und Methode. Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik. Tübingen: Mohr. Hegel, Georg W.F. 1978. Gesammelte Werke (GW) 11. Hamburg: Meiner. ———. 1984. Gesammelte Werke (GW) 21. Hamburg: Meiner. ———. 2003. Berliner Schriften 1818–1831. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. ———. 2013. Jeaner Schriften 1801–1807. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. Heidegger, Martin. 1988. Zur Sache des Denkens. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. Hinrichs, H.  F.W. 1822. Die Religion im Verhältnisse zur Wissenschaft. Nebst Darstellung und Beurtheilung der von Jacobi, Kant, Fichte und Schelling gemachten Versuche dieselbe wissenschaftlich zu erfassen, und nach ihrem Hauptinhalte zu entwickeln. Mit einem Vorworte von Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Heidelberg. Holzhey, Helmut. 1986. Der Marburger Neukantianismus in Quellen: Zeugnisse kritischer Lektüre, Briefe der Marburger, Dokumente zur Philosophiepolitik der Schule. Basel/Stuttgart: Schwabe. Holzhey, Helmut, and Wolfgang Röd. 2004. Die Philosophie des ausgehenden 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts 2. Neukantianismus, Idealismus, Realismus, Phänomenologie. München: Verlag C.H. Beck. Jegelka, Norbert. 1992. Paul Natorp. Philosophie – Pädagogik – Politik. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann. Kant, Immanuel. 2001. Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik, die als Wissenschaft wird auftreten können. Hamburg: Meiner. Kaufmann, Walter A. 2009. Goethe, Kant, and Hegel: The discovering the mind. Vol. 1. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction. Kern, Iso. 1964. Husserl und Kant. Eine Untersuchung über Husserls Verhältnis zu Kant und zum Neukantianismus. Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff. Kisiel, Theodore. 2002. Heidegger’s way of thought. Critical and interpretative signposts. New York: Continuum. Kottak, Conrad P. 2013. A mirror of humanity. A concise introduction into cultural anthropology. New York: Oxford University Press.


 This is my translation. For the original German version of this sentence see: Natorp (2000), p. 120.


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Kroner, Richard. 1928. Die Selbstverwirklichung des Geistes. Prolegomena zur Kulturphilosophie. Tübingen: Mohr. Luckmann, Thomas. 1967. The invisible religion. The problem of religion in modern society. New York: Macmillan. Luft, Sebastian. 2015. The space of culture. Towards a Neo-Kantian philosophy of culture (Cohen, Natorp, & Cassirer). Oxford: Oxford University Press. McLuhan, Marshall, and Quentin Fiore. 1967. The Medium is the message. An inventory of effects. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Nancy, Jean-Luc. 2011. Hegel. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Natorp, P. 1916. Nachlass Natorp Ms. 831, A11. “Geschichte der deutschen Philosophie von Kant bis Hegel” (WS 1916/17). Stored at University Library of Philipps-Universität Marburg. ———. 1922a. Paul Natorps geistige Wandlung. Von einem, der ihm sehr nahe steht. Kölnische Volkszeitung (no. 322), April 26. ———. 1922b. Nachlass Natorp Ms. 831 B3. “Philosophische Systematik“ (SS 1922). Stored at University Library of Philipps-Universität Marburg. Natorp, Paul. 1903. Platos Ideenlehre. Eine Einführung in den Idealismus. Leipzig: Dürr. ———. 1908. Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der Humanität. Ein Kapitel zur Grundlegung der Sozialpädagogik. Tübingen: Mohr. ———. 1911. Philosophie. Ihr Problem und Ihre Probleme. Einführung in den kritischen Idealismus. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. ———. 1912. Allgemeine Psychologie nach kritischer Methode. Erstes Buch: Objekt und Methoden der Psychologie. Tübingen: Mohr. ———. 1914. Über Platos Ideenlehre. Berlin: Platon. ———. 1918a. Bruno Bauchs ‘Immanuel Kant’ und die Fortbildung des Systems des kritischen Idealismus. Kant-Studien 22: 426–459. ———. 1918b. Die Seele des Deutschen. Jena: Eugen Diederichs. ———. 1918c. Student und Weltanschauung. Jena: Eugen Diederichs. ———. 1918d. Hermann Cohens philosophische Leistung unter dem Gesichtspunkt des Systems. Berlin: Reuther und Reichard. ———. 1918e. Hermann Cohen als Mensch, Lehrer und Forscher. Marburg: Universitaet Marburg. ———. 1920. Sozial-Idealismus. Neue Richtlinien sozialer Erziehung. Berlin: Julius Springer. ———. 1921a. Die Logischen Grundlagen der exakten Wissenschaften. Leipzig: Teubner. ———. 1921b. Stunden mit Rabindranath Thakkur. Jena: Eugen Diederichs. ———. 1921c. Individuum und Gemeinschaft. Mit einem Anhang vom echten Tode. Jena: Eugen Diederichs. ———. 1923a. Über den Ausgangspunkt der Philosophie. Japanisch-deutsche Zeitschrift für Wissenschaft und Technik 1: 121–128. ———. 1923b. Selbstdarstellung. In Die Philosophie der Gegenwart in Selbstdarstellungen, ed. Raymond Schmidt, 160–190. Leipzig: F. Meiner. ———. 1925. Vorlesungen über Praktische Philosophie. Erlangen: Verlag der philosophischen Akademie. ———. 1929. Philosophie. Ihr Problem und ihre Probleme. Eine Einführung in den kritischen Idealismus. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. ———. 1961a. Metakritischer Anhang (1920). Logos – Psyche – Eros. In Platos Ideenlehre. Eine Einführung in den Idealismus, ed. Paul Natorp, 457–513. Darmstadt: W. Buchgesellschaft. ———. 1961b. Platos Ideenlehre. Eine Einführung in den Idealismus. Darmstadt: W. Buchgesellschaft. ———. 2000. Philosophische Systematik. Mit der Gedenkrede zum 100. Geburtstag am 24.1.1954 von Hans-Georg Gadamer. Hamburg. Noack, Hermann. 1965. Die Philosophie Westeuropas. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft: Darmstadt. Ollig, Hans-Ludwig. 1992. Neukantianismus. Texte der Marburger und der Südwestdeutschen Schule, ihrer Vorläufer und Kritiker. Ditzingen: Reclam.

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Otto, Rudolf. 2014. Das Heilige. Über das Irrationale in der Idee des Göttlichen und sein Verhältnis zum Rationalen (Neuausgabe mit einem Nachwort von Hans Joas). München: C. H. Beck. Sellars, Wilfrid. 1997. Empiricism and the philosophy of mind. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Siebel, Wilhelm. 1927. Paul Natorps letzter Brief. Herausgegeben und religionsphilosophisch gewürdigt von Dr. Wilhelm Siebel, Barmen. Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie 4 (4): 597–630. Simmel, Georg. 1900. Philosophie des Geldes. Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot. von Goethe, Johann W. 2007. Versepen, Schriften, Maximen und Reflexionen. Frankfurt: Klostermann. von Wolzogen, Christoph. 1984. Die autonome Relation. Zum Problem der Beziehung im Spätwerk Paul Natorps. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Theorien der Relation. Würzburg: Rodopi. ———. 1988. ‘Es gibt.’ Heideggers und Natorps ‘Praktische Philosophie’. In Heidegger und die praktische Philosophie, ed. Annemarie Gethmann-Siefert and Otto Pöggeler, 313–337. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. ———. 1994. ‘Den Gegner stark machen.’ Heidegger und der Ausgang des Neukantianismus am Beispiel Paul Natorps. In Neukantianismus. Perspektiven und Probleme, ed. W. Orth Ernst and Helmut Holzhey, 397–417. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann. Zeidler, Kurt W. 1995. Kritische Dialektik und Transzendentalontologie. Der Ausgang des Neukantianismus und die post-neukantianische Systematik R.  Hönigswalds, W.  Cramers, B. Bauchs, H. Wagners, R. Reiningers und E. Heintels. Bonn: Bouvier Verlag. ———. 2011. Bestimmung und Begründung. Zu Kants Deduktionen der Ideen der reinen Vernunft. In Gegenstandsbestimmung und Selbstgestaltung. Transzendentalphilosophie im Anschluss an Werner Flach, ed. Christian Krijnen and Kurt W. Zeidler, 297–320. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann. ———. 2013. Begriff und ‘Faktum’ der Wissenschaft. In Wissenschaftsphilosophie im Neukantianismus. Ansätze  – Kontroversen  – Wirkungen, ed. Christian Krijnen and Kurt W. Zeidler, 85–111. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann. ———. 2015. Protestantismus der Vernunft. Zu Falk Wagners Theo-Logie. In Spekulative theologie und gelebte Religion. Falk Wagner und die Diskurse der Moderne, ed. Christian Danz and Michael Murrmann-Kahl, 213–226. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. ———. 2016. Grundlegungen. Wien: Academia. ———. 2017. Grundriss der transzendentalen Logik. Wien: Ferst & Perz.

Part IV

Religion, Politics and Power: Decentred Analyses

Making Global Connections: Critical Pedagogy and the Decolonization of History Harun Rasiah

Abstract  This chapter explores the theory and practice of teaching undergraduate courses on Islam and modern Middle Eastern history. General education requirements offer an opportunity to raise open-ended questions about representations of the past and the ways they impinge on the present. Reading religious and transregional history as the practice of critical thinking affords an opportunity to advance analytic techniques in decoding primary sources while questioning the conceptual basis of underlying assumptions. Coursework on the modern Middle East, Muslim Spain and Islam allowed students to sift through the multilayered past and trace the making of the conflicted present. Locating the empty spaces—the unsaid—in dominant narratives enabled a critique of accounts that suggest perpetual conflict rather than common understanding. In reorienting regional geography from fixed categories based on the nation states of West Asia and North Africa, these courses re-­ envisioned the region from the perspective of the Mediterranean, Arabian and Red Seas, enabling observers to chart the flows of people, goods and ideas. The notion of connected histories, in relation to the reconquista of Muslim Spain and the colonization of the Americas, illuminated how relations of power have impinged on knowledge formation in the transition to “modernity”. The contributions of al-­ Tabari, Ibn Khaldun and al-Mas‘udi figured as alternative traditions of historical writing that predate colonialism. Al-Jabarti furnishes an example of how an indigenous historian recorded the French presence in Egypt. Finally, examining the Convivencia of Moorish Spain as historical conjuncture raised questions about how the study of history contributes to notions of coexistence. Critical thinking intrinsic to historiography provides a means to reassemble the past and provincialize Europe, while building connections that bridge the knowledge divide.

H. Rasiah (*) Holy Names University, Oakland, CA, USA e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 J. Hensold et al. (eds.), Religion in Motion,



H. Rasiah

Disconnections This  essay considers  the discipline of history as a promising site from which to advance reading comprehension and critical thinking, while promoting motivation to seek diverse forms of knowledge. It reflects on the pedagogical challenges posed by courses in modern Middle Eastern and North African history and the formation of Islam in Oakland, California, and summer seminars on Muslim history in Granada, Spain. For historians and teachers, these ideas may be familiar; nonetheless, in practice they inspire interest, participation and motivation. While history courses by definition teach a type of critical thinking, Middle Eastern history in particular lends itself to this general task in the shadow of the omnipresent “War on Terror”. In the current atmosphere representations of Arabs and Muslims proliferate while being openly contested across media platforms. The strategies discussed here are not intended to be prescriptive, but are the subjective response to specific conditions of instruction, arising from dialogue with students and a diagnosis of gnoseological problems. These upper-division undergraduate classes connected to institutions in Berkeley and Oakland, California, had fewer than thirty students. They were attended largely by students of color who have been historically underserved by the US educational system. Students bring to the classroom rich experience, diverse ways of understanding, and culturally sophisticated forms of knowledge that often go unrecognized. At the university level, summer bridge programmes have been implemented to improve academic preparation prior to matriculation. Universities provide a variety of support systems, among which faculty mentorship is a key to inclusion and success. Increasingly, faculty are asked to participate in skill-building courses, teach writing across the curriculum, and contribute towards student retention and success. This chapter focuses on teaching strategies that connect experience and scholarship, cultivating intellectual curiosity for critical analysis. It also considers ways to deflate American exceptionalism by using curricula to build global connections, of which study abroad programmes offer the strongest experiential component. In pursuing themes of the book, this chapter, as a reflection, considers ways to bridge divides of academic achievement, experience and scholarship, and community and university. Bombarded relentlessly with images and information, students are expected to think independently and view the world critically. But is this expectation unfair? It takes prior knowledge and vigilant practice to disrupt the high velocity of digital consumption. At a time when the reality show has bled into live news, distinctions between fact and fiction are blurred. Actual events are “fake news” and falsehoods are simply "alternative facts".  Fiction, too, has been vetted to cleanse history, whereby recent films treating the Middle East are made in close consultation with intelligence agencies.1 In the metropole, movies and television, videos and videogames, are the high-definition frontline for winning over audiences, including history students taught to see the world through the scope of an American Sniper.  Hayden (2013); Jenkins (2013).


Making Global Connections: Critical Pedagogy and the Decolonization of History


The field of critical media literacy offers tools to interrogate scripts written under the influence of empire. For alternative materials on contemporary wars, seen and unseen, our Middle East history class screened clips from a selection of documentaries, including coverage of the 2011 revolution in Egypt and an investigative report on drone attacks in Yemen. Footage of Egyptian university students socializing behind the scenes of Tahrir Square demystified activism and made palpable commonalities with their American counterparts. Refocusing the lens between the “global” and the “local” brought into relief frames of reference and narrative device. The first-person voiceover made history into “relatable” stories. In this way documentary allows viewers to face actors in countries on the radar but largely off-­ screen. Another fruitful comparison contrasted news reports from major electronic media with mainstream print journalism intimating the complexities in Iraq and Syria. Reading eyewitness testimony gave history and current events a human face, poignantly countering the dehumanization of uncounted bodies.2 Questioning representations interrupted official narratives that enlist the public in warmongering and other modes of complicity. Digital representation also cuts both ways. On the one hand, information technologies enable participation in producing narratives through social media. The democratization and decentralization of media is at odds, however, with the consolidation of news and entertainment into a handful of monopolies, and the ubiquitous reach of surveillance. Critics have condemned the intimate relationship between media outlets that operate directly with official information channels, government organs and military communications, producing “embedded” journalism.3 By the same token, does professional responsibility require an equal balance in showing the world through the eyes of others? As Frank Ankersmit proposes, meaning is originally representational and arises from our recognition of how other people (historians, painters, novelists) represent the world. It requires us to look at the world through the eyes of others—or, at least, to recognize that this can be done. Meaning has two components: the world and the insight that it can be represented in a certain way, that it can be seen from a certain point of view.4

Many citizens have profound empathy for other viewpoints, alternative representations of events, in recognition of international actors whose narratives deserve representation. Teaching history to see beyond the limits of oneself, and one’s tribe and nation, then is less a radical act of re-imagination than overcoming the fear of knowing one’s neighbours. To make course themes relevant to current affairs, the curriculum moved between past and present while alternating from a close reading of the text to discerning the broader context. A  primary source, Napoleon’s proclamation to the Egyptians in 1798, can be read to illuminate the present, for instance the US intervention in Iraq.

2  “[…] we don’t do body counts.” General Tommy Franks, Bagram Air Base. As quoted by: Epstein (2002). 3  Pfau et al. (2004), pp. 74–88. 4  Ankersmit (1988), p. 210.


H. Rasiah

“Is not history, the dialectic of time spans, in its own way an explanation of reality, and thus of contemporary society?” asked Braudel.5 To interpret the present, students discovered ways to relate news articles to secondary history readings. This assignment questioned journalistic objectivity by observing the evolution of narratives as coverage adapted to unfolding events. It also contextualized a breaking news story based on exposure to historical background and inferring missing information. Theorizing absence opens the possibility of discovery. A typology of historical “negation” provides students with ways of thinking about the loss of records.  Acts of historical erasure include hiding archives, biblioclasm, burning libraries and epistemicide, the destruction of indigenous knowledge as an exercise of colonial power. Other assignments taught students to detect absences by thinking through fallacious arguments presented as common sense and emotional appeals to patriotism (“if we don’t kill them there, they will kill us here”). If violent jealousy is said to be a key source of terrorism (“they hate us because of our freedom”), then armed conflict can be reduced to behaviour or culture, as in primordial ethnic or sectarian conflict.6 However, just as financial  interests have linkages to political affairs in the present, economic history informs the course of political history. What might have been the consequences of replacing petrodollars with Qaddafy’s gold dinars or Saddam’s euros?7 By filtering narratives of the metropole, information monopolies operate as arbiters of selective truths, compressed into sound bites, rehearsed as talking points, ready for consumption on the newsfeed or daily news cycle.8 In a rather elementary sense, history provides the context to decipher the “text” of the present. The field of history is intrinsically critical inasmuch as it requires close examination to source materials and the composition of narrative structure and perspective. Yet the number of history majors has declined rapidly while practitioners scramble to assess the Middle East history survey course that has attracted increasing scrutiny.9 If the post-literate society is here then it is also post-historical. In the United States while anti-intellectualism may confound discussion of the Middle East, it also magnifies controversies surrounding foreign policy, the defence of which invites scepticism and impels many to find alternative sources of information. In support of multiplying interventions, official justifications proclaim “the whole world is a battlefield” and “all military age males are combatants”.10 Moreover, controversy over “enhanced interrogation”, “pre-emptive strikes”, “regime change”, “full-spectrum dominance”, “homeland security”, “secret evidence” and “kill lists” evince doubt in some quarters. Of late imperial adventures  Braudel (1982), p. 38.  Lynch (2016). 7  Fisk (2009). 8  Herman and Chomsky (2012). 9  Gelvin (2017), pp.  22–26; Abu-Rish (2017), pp.  27–30; Creasey (2017), pp.  31–34; Shields (2017), pp. 35–39; Pennell (2017), pp. 40–44; Hussein Moustafa (2017), pp. 45–49; Yaqub (2017), pp. 50–54. 10  Becker and Scott (2012). 5 6

Making Global Connections: Critical Pedagogy and the Decolonization of History


have perceptibly shifted opinion by contributing to “war fatigue” felt by the American public. For some, connected to social media without pause yet disconnected from international affairs, it is difficult to find relevance in the present let alone the past. More often than not, undergraduates display shock and awe when confronted with the cost in blood and treasure of wars under way in the Middle East, on battlefields too many cannot locate on a map.11 It is no wonder then that for citizen and policymaker alike the only discernible difference between Iraq and Iran is a letter of the alphabet.12 Yet social media can be used to combat obscurantism by interrupting powerful narratives. For example, the “meme” aims to correct the record with a dose of sharp wit. The juxtaposition of familiar and unfamiliar images scaffolds learning, often using satire to expose assumptions and explode myths. In a meme used to question  projections of imperial power, students viewed a map of Iran encircled by American flags that symbolized military bases. In contrast to this image was a map of the United States with Iranian flags lining northern and southern borders. With a provocative counterfactual, the normative becomes problematic. Such dramatic visuals play well in the classroom as an accessible format that elicits immediate recognition and incites thinking. This technique destabilizes cinematic depictions of a world in which cowboys save the West from marauding “Indians”, a familiar mould to cast the latest ethnic menace—Arabs, Middle Easterners, South Asians and Muslims. In movies, television, video games and advertisements, online and offline, misrepresentation has programmatic ends if not designs. The classroom as media laboratory can perform a critical task in dispelling stereotypes by performing an anatomy of programming to detect bias across genres. Dismantling racialized constructions of Arab, Muslim and Middle Easterners and re-situating them within a broader linguistic and geographic context allowed students to reassess the categories that filter world views and question the assumptions underlying popular discourse. As demographics shift in the United States, a way to look beyond the moment and bridge the divide between past and present, and “us” and “them”, is to chart the treatment of minoritized ethnicities. For instance, Asians have been subject to draconian restrictions in the past, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, on the grounds of imperilling society. In 1942 Executive Order 9066 codified the “internment” of Japanese Americans in concentration camps as ostensible threat to national  security. These acts figure in the public conversation both  in terms  of

 “The global literacy survey asked 1203 young adults 75 questions about geography, current events, and economics and trade. Among 18-to-26-year-olds who attend or have attended a 2- or 4-year college in the United States, the average score on the survey was just 55%—a failing grade in most U.S. classrooms.” Appeared in: Young (2016). 12  “Based on the discussion with military analysts, Rumsfeld tied Iran and Iraq. ‘Iran is the concern of the American people, and if we fail in Iraq, it will advantage Iran’, he wrote in his April 2006 memo. Rumsfeld declined to comment, but an aide said the points in that memo were Rumsfeld’s distillation of the analysts’ comments, though he added that the secretary is known for using the term ‘bumper stickers’.” Appeared in: Wright (2007). 11


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curating history so as not to repeat it and as precedents for future policy.13 Diversity in the classroom is a resource to eviscerate negative portrayals of “criminals” and “illegal aliens” on the one hand, and positive stereotypes of athletes and entertainers on the other. Attempting to connect experiences by recognizing the humanity of others would seem the lowest common denominator of a critical perspective. However, more than one student expressed to faculty that they need not enrol in an introductory course on Islam because they were not “Muslims or terrorists”, used interchangeably. Such sentiments are not limited to popular audiences; the work of specialists reveals a similar outlook. Since 9/11 the merging of academic and military study has taken new directions. Because the pretence of objectivity or neutrality guides scholarly inquiry, empirical studies of social structure, cultural “habits” and political ideas acquire a new value. Historical data masquerades in the theatre of war as “intelligence” (“intel”), sorted into one of two values, “good” or “bad”, much like the framing of Muslims.14 Good intelligence is “actionable” and supports military operations. Relating to the Middle East, the militarization of disciplines, summed up in the notion of “weaponized” anthropology, directly aids the war effort. This practice has prompted sustained critiques, and equally loud silences.15 Formulaic representations influence perceptions of facts on the ground. While scholarship can be made to serve various pragmatic considerations, an objective of acquiring detailed knowledge of a society is in the deliberate provision of intellectual support for “boots on the ground”. The mission of collecting information about the region must have political utility for the military strategy of “neutralizing threats” by force or by “winning hearts and minds”. Sometimes these goals are practised simultaneously. In the classroom, another veteran spoke of providing relief to civilians in Afghanistan. However, the next day his superiors supplied the coordinates of that same village and ordered him to load missiles targeting the area. He was reprimanded for raising objections. Without irony, the imperial wars of the present relive the absurdity of “destroying the village in order to save it”. In an older axiom Marx ventured that “history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce”. Such pronouncements  are supported by numerous  illustrations. Moreover, from the era of the Vietnam/American War arose a scholarly critique of anthropology as relevant then as it is today. For these contradictions to be adequately apprehended it is essential to turn to the historical power relationship between the West and the Third World and to examine the ways in which it has been dialectically linked to the practical conditions, the working assumptions and the intellectual product of all disciplines representing the European understanding of non-­ European humanity.16

 Burton (2017), pp. 160–172; Heere (2017).  Mamdani (2004). 15  Gonzales (2009); Price (2011). 16  Asad (1973), pp. 18–19. 13 14

Making Global Connections: Critical Pedagogy and the Decolonization of History


Predating Talal Asad’s intervention, Malcolm X had asserted that “anthropologists […] were nothing but agents of the colonial powers, and they were purposefully given that status, they were purposely given such scientific positions, in order that they could come up with definitions that would justify the European domination over the Africans and the Asians”.17 Both critiques delimit the universal claims of disciplinary knowledge by identifying colonial relations of power informing the overall project of anthropology. Decolonizing the social sciences requires a similar dissection.

Unsettling Geographies The Middle East of the popular imagination resembles a fiction teeming with stock characters one encounters repeatedly. This tableau forms a political imaginary that is revived in the retelling of any event. “To save an event from oblivion is in the Orientalists’ mind the equivalent of turning the Orient into a theater for his representations of the Orient [...].”18 Thus the idea prevails that the Middle East must be unveiled, bombardment brings about peace, Muslim women must be saved, tyrants deposed and democracy imposed.19 If in the public mind the Middle East remains a fantastic apparition, then Edward Said’s Orientalism is  often used as a talisman to chase away the ghosts. … the sheer power of having described the Orient in modern Occidental terms lifts the Orient from the realms of silent obscurity where it has lain neglected (except for the inchoate murmurings of a vast but undefined sense of its own past) into the clarity of modern European science.20

Detailing how literature, art and policy alike project fantasies of the Other, Said’s canonical text introduces the critical term “positional superiority” to name unequal power relations. To interrogate the political location of the Middle East, the modern history survey can disrupt imbalances of positionality and take the presumptuous step of redrawing the map, in keeping with past precedents. In this exercise, the curriculum provided new coordinates for re-plotting the region’s cartography. However, instead of reinforcing  colonial practices, students embarked as figurative travellers on a journey across the waters of the Mediterranean, Arabian and Red Seas (MARS). These three seas interconnect the coastal geographies of Western Asia, Southern Europe and North and East Africa. Rather than re-inscribe the arbitrary territorial delineations established during the modern period, the region can then be considered from another horizon. That the modern era is synonymous with, and  Malcolm X (1965), p. 18.  Said (1979), p. 86. 19  Abu-Lughod (2013). 20  Said (1979), p. 86. 17 18


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constitutive of, colonialism, beginning and ending with the vantage point of Europe, makes this geographic shift all the more instructive. This alternate framework emphasized the flow of people and commodities, culture and knowledge, following the circulation of knowledge and re-evaluating the forging of continental identity. Today scholarship and popular literature take into account the role of Andalusia and Sicily as former Muslim polities on the European periphery.21 In fact, admitting the northern rim of the Mediterranean into the fold of the MARS arrangement enabled us to rethink the idea of the West and dismantle “Fortress Europe”. The field of Mediterranean history has been around since Braudel, a departure from the compartmentalized, border-defined thinking that is conventionally taught. Although they are not coterminous, the “middle sea” can be more of a unifying body than a “Middle East” marked by division. For professionals such a reconceptualization may be prosaic, but it had an inestimable impact on student efforts to re-envision the world. This reconfiguration also allowed us to treat areas usually excluded from surveys of the Middle East and North Africa, such as Greece and Italy, Pakistan and Somalia, but that still feature in international news as home to refugees and militants, “good and bad Muslims” respectively. The cartographic shift also aimed to assess the learning outcome of geographic literacy, another pressing need at the university level. Maps may generate both fascination and fear, yet map quizzes dispel the notion that providence has placed one’s country at the centre of the world, rendering others superfluous. The offer of extra credit provided students with an incentive to identify correctly the countries along the shores of the Mediterranean, Arabian and Red Seas and learn their Arabic names, building skills in map-reading while reconsidering anglicized nomenclature. Historians may not replace MENA in favour of the outlandish MARS, but this exercise of adjusting one’s global positioning highlighted boundaries and breaks alongside flows and continuities. Moreover, the Muslim presence in the Mediterranean lands upset the exhausted dichotomies of East and West, North and South, Europe and Africa. The formation of political entities such as Transjordan and Iraq underscore how global, regional and local powers negotiated a variety of interests in the establishment of new borders. Observing figures like Gertrude Bell illustrated how orientalists, in concert with a range of other political actors, contributed to the creation of nation states. The physical geography formulated into political sovereignty and translated into historical experience, imagined and real, ultimately operates at the level of ontological categories. If the movement towards nationalist independence reproduces the very categories of modernity that resulted in colonial status, then it lays bare the paradox of emancipation and captivity, compounding the problem while providing a key index of modernity. In this respect, the study of the Middle East offers the opportunity to perform an anatomy of modernity, with the conflicted Enlightenment ideals of freedom amid the realities of enslavement, while tracing the occupation of territories to submit to the economic, political, cultural and


 Bonine (2012).

Making Global Connections: Critical Pedagogy and the Decolonization of History


epistemological interests of colonial powers. It might also be said that arguments regarding the “invention” of the Middle East can be designed to trespass on contemporary sovereignties and once again insinuate that borders be redrawn, an idea that gains currency when a state finds itself in the crosshairs of imperial power.22

Modernity and Its Discontents The quest for the ideal of diversity in higher education has evolved from a superficial multiculturalism of accommodating different viewpoints to the provocative demand to decolonize the university, gathering pace since the “Rhodes Must Fall” movement started at the University of Cape Town.23 This more substantive level of critique seeks recognition of global epistemologies by “provincializing Europe” and reconsidering the world from multiple geohistorical vantage points. Such perspectives enable interrogation of narratives that centre Europe in the history of knowledge. Just as one would contextualize the redrawing of national borders after WWI, it is also important to historicize the social sciences and their linkages to projects of empire.24 The notion of provincializing Europe is especially germane to the intertwined chronology of modernity and colonialism.25 Dating the advent of modernity remains a crucial question far from resolution. Instead of launching our inquiry from the French invasion of Egypt in 1798, the Middle East history course began with the rupture of 1492 and its implications for global history. By this reappraisal, the concept of modernity emerges from the defeat of Muslims and expulsion of Jews on the Iberian peninsula and conquest of the Americas.26 The fall of Granada initiates the consolidation of power and place in Spain, voyages to the New World, and the formation of Europe as idea and political entity constructed in opposition to outsiders. As such, modernity universalizes Europe as the quintessence of civilization, measure of all things, and progenitor of knowledge. To put the modern world in perspective, the course examined the premodern global system of exchange. Muslim travel accounts are indispensable to this narrative. Ibn Battuta and Zheng He, from Tangier and Kunming respectively, present exploration in another idiom, in contrast to the familiar Marco Polo and Vasco da Gama. From the farthest reaches of the Muslim world, each traveller moved against the current of provincialism and superseded local geographies. The westward travels of Zheng He form a thread through the connected histories of China, the Malay world, al-Hind and the western Indian Ocean. Teaching about travellers allowed us to imagine movement by sea and land across wide expanses predating

 Daragahi (2018).  Bhambra et al. (2018). 24  Wallerstein (1991). 25  Chakrabarty (2000). 26  Dussel (1995). 22 23


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configurations of the nation state. Travel remains a tried and true method by which to establish knowledge. Ibn Khaldun acknowledged approvingly that the extensive travels of fellow historian al-Mas'udi helped him to arrive at a “complete picture”.27 Moreover, the Arabic account of the journey in search of knowledge (rihlat al-talab al-‘ilm) provides undergraduates with a premodern, non-Western concept of travelling to learn, an opportunity for reflection on the purpose behind international study. A unique aspect of university education, study abroad programmes have the potential to enrich students immeasurably, particularly outside the “green zone” of First World comforts. Following the conclusion of the campus-based Middle East history course, one student travelled to Iran on a tour organized by the Nation magazine, an eye-opening experience he described as a “life changer”. As a navy veteran, he had been stationed in the Persian Gulf and had once regarded Iran as a site of terrorism, not tourism.  As a mature student, university transformed his perspective and he began to correspond regularly with Noam Chomsky (who gave the syllabus a stamp of approval). During a summer course in Granada, university students from California visited the iconic Nasrid palace, the Alhambra. The predominantly Latinx cohort experienced the fusion of Spanish and Arabic heritage at the “ground zero of modernity”.28 To imagine that Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand authorized the voyage of Columbus in the Throne Room of the Alhambra. Above a starlit canopy intimated the symbolic seven heavens of Islamic cosmology. Fatefully, Andalusian astronomy helped guide navigators across the Atlantic using the Arabic astrolabe.29 The subsequent conquests of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Spain and the Americas have been described as initiating the age of colonial modernity. For visitors the cityscape of Granada, the last stronghold of the Moors, formed a classroom in itself, with numerous landmarks to map the layers of civilization and attempted erasures of the past in the converted churches and abandoned madrasas of the Albaicin. The heavy influence of Arabic on the Spanish language also remains buried in plain sight, and tracing lexical origins contributes to the interdisciplinary nature of inquiry into the past. Monuments to Columbus dot the city, emblems of conquest overriding an earlier era. Federico Garcia Lorca, poet and martyr, saw in the fall of Muslim Granada a disastrous event even though they may say the opposite in the schools. An admirable civilization, and a poetry, astronomy, architecture and sensitivity unique in the world—all were lost, to give way to an impoverished, cowed city, a “miser’s paradise,” which is currently being stirred up by the worst bourgeoisie in Spain.30

Perhaps the poetic disposition of Lorca, a genuine heir to the eclectic past, heightened his appreciation for the aesthetics and achievement of al-Andalus. His sentiment, uttered on the eve of fascist rule, also speaks eloquently to contemporary  Khaldun (1989), p. 30.  Grosfoguel (2013), pp. 79–80. 29  Carew (1992), p. 15. 30  Gibson (1992), pp. x–xi. 27 28

Making Global Connections: Critical Pedagogy and the Decolonization of History


crises of meaning in Spain, and much of Europe, haunted by recession and secession, amid the spectre of Muslim migration. Spatial dimensions of the past, intersecting geography with relations of power, knowledge and authority, can reveal  the political significance of place.  Thus, an essay question on the Mideast history  final exam based on The Battle of Algiers asked students to contrast French occupation of the medina with life in the new city, and to analyse how the architecture of the Arab quarter shaped resistance to colonial rule. Raising such questions can stimulate thought about the policing of urban space closer to home. For example, in the film La Haine the distance from the banlieue to the centre of postcolonial Paris brought into relief the consequences of migration and marginalization. How do minoritized ethnicities experience the city? Beyond the screen, on the outskirts of Cordoba, students meandered freely through the ruins of the open-air Madinat al-Zahra and experienced the remnants of the past. A state-of-the-art display in the museum complex presented tourists with the history of this archaeological site. On return to the old city of Cordoba, however, the authorities prevented our Moroccan-Spanish guide from entering the famous Mosque-Cathedral. Despite producing his credentials as one of the only Muslim tour guides of the Alhambra, he was barred from entering. Only the official narrative is authorized, the security detail might have declared in policing both the physical and philosophical premises. In this respect historical landmarks resemble borders and disciplines. Trespassing boundaries will not be tolerated. Moreover, this was not an isolated incident. Earlier that year the state prosecuted Muslim tourists who had been arrested for praying in the converted mosque. The charges were eventually dismissed, but the litigation over history continues.31 Nonetheless, Cordoba, as a renowned city of knowledge, remains a notable jewel in the crown of al-Andalus with regard to interreligious scholarship and translation. The geographer al-Bakri (d. 487/1094) spent most of his life there and composed the Book of Routes and Realms. With origins in nearby Morocco, the better known al-Idrisi created maps for Roger II in Sicily and changed the image of the world. The influence of Averroes (Ibn Rushd), as Aristotelian as he is Muslim, runs through the thought of Aquinas and Dante, crucial minds in the making of the medieval Mediterranean.32 Contemporary Spain cannot evade the memory of the Islamicate West, an Abrahamic crucible with an intellectual inheritance reaching far north and to the south on trans-Saharan trade routes. Albeit exaggerated, the Convivencia as conjuncture serves (like MARS) as a metaphor for the flow of ideas and contestations of knowledge once thought possible. As a paradigm of coexistence, it still resonates in questioning the “clash of civilizations” thesis and other projections of interminable war.

31 32

 Chesworth (2017), p. 193.  Cantor (1996), pp. 138–153.


H. Rasiah

Muslim Historiography as Critical Thinking What is history? In posing self-reflexive questions on the notion of vantage point, students can identify their own perspectives and positionality in relation to official history. Whose history? Who are the subjects of history? Which viewpoints shape narratives? How does the archive reify power and powerlessness? The approach of history from below listens to women, subalterns, minorities, workers, rebels and bandits not merely as a corrective, but a counterpoint among many, Koselleck’s “history in the plural”.33 In this rendition history is not meant to establish a definitive authenticity, but to raise questions about the processes by which authenticity is constituted. These philosophical questions can help create meaning beyond the consumerist activity of collecting facts in the shopping cart of exams and papers to accumulate good grades. Instead, the teaching of Middle Eastern history, because it is such an openly contested field, presents an opportunity to sift through the sources and rethink received facts, structures of power and disciplinary borders, not to mention the physical borders that divide and conquer, anaesthetize and domesticate. Historiography encompasses critical assessment of sources, modes of writing and methodology. Seeking to extract from historiography a set of transferable critical thinking tools requires us to think past disciplinary boundaries. An inclusive historiography would engage traditions of history beyond only those of the West. Even the most exclusive subfields, such as intellectual history, have begun to recognize the importance of admitting other perspectives.34 In the Muslim world the report (khabar), chronicle (nameh), history (tarikh) and martyrology (maqtal) literature belong to the genre of history-writing. It is not useful to dismiss these formats as mere hagiography. Ibn Khaldun, another Andalusian, advocates methodological rigour to advance the practice of history. “The writing of history requires numerous sources and greatly varied knowledge. It also requires a good speculative mind and thoroughness. Possession of these two qualities leads the historian to the truth and keeps him from slips and errors. If he trusts historical information in its plain transmitted form and has no clear knowledge of the principles resulting from custom, the fundamental facts of politics, the nature of civilization or the conditions governing human social organization, and if, furthermore, he does not evaluate remote or ancient material through comparison with near or contemporary material, he often cannot avoid stumbling and slipping and deviating from the high road of truth.”35 Insistence on general knowledge, abundance of source materials, the faculty of reason, and the comparative method can focus on potential limitations of transmission.

The hadith literature, comprised of the Prophet’s utterances and accounts of his actions, forms the basis of the earliest biographies and histories in Islam and as such are fundamental to courses on the formation of Islam and the modern Middle East. Hadith studies (‘ilm al-hadith) trace chains of transmission in detail, offering a

 Olsen (2011).  Moyn and Sartori (2013). 35  Khaldun (1989), p. 11. 33 34

Making Global Connections: Critical Pedagogy and the Decolonization of History


critical approach to engage with primary sources. Hadith studies are considered among the transmitted (naqli) rather than rational (‘aqli) sciences of the traditional disciplines (‘ulum al-din). A critical source method from the classical age, the “study of narrators” (‘ilm al-rijal, literally but not exclusively “men”), evaluates transmitters of hadith, thus verifying reports from the prophetic era, foundational sources of Islamic historiography. There is also evidence from the earliest period of Islam for using rational means to assess content, a technique Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib references. “When you hear a tradition test it according to the criterion of intelligence and not that of mere hearing, because those who relate knowledge are numerous but those who guard it are few”.36 Moreover, the narrations (riwayat) that have been handed down through the Prophet’s family (ahl al-bayt) include his daughter Fatimah and granddaughter Zaynab, among many other women who not only preserved prophetic knowledge, but also the interpretation of the Qur’an, as disseminated in the Shi’i schools of thought which expanded into North Africa during the Fatimid and Idrisid eras. A counterpoint to gendered descriptions of the circulation of knowledge, the oldest institution of learning in the Muslim world was founded by Fatimah al-Fihri and the most famous al-Azhar was founded in the name of Fatimah al-Zahra. Asma Sayeed has detailed the central role of women who related hadith (al-muhaddithat) in the transmission of knowledge. Teaching Islamic history also requires “decolonizing” it from within, including accounts coloured by the Umayyad empire, with its antipathy to Bani Hashim, and which claim as its crowning achievement Moorish Spain, while minimizing contributions of the Maghrib. A critical approach to the sources is not limited to the orientalists or Western scholars more generally. The study of textual transmission relates the formation of a manuscript and commentaries, routes by which a text materializes, by whose hands, in what recension, and processes of loss and recovery. Which iteration does the researcher have access to? What was the nature of its reception? By historicizing the materials of history, we can look at shifting meanings of its sources. Discerning the construction of textual authenticity need not uphold the orientalist practice of attributing foreign origins to sources, but examines how authority is fashioned in time and place, under varying conditions of patronage and independence, and individual and collective authorship. An instructive piece of critical historiography that attempts to track orientalist approaches to periodization relates to the historian al-Jabarti.37 By viewing al-Jabarti’s manuscripts as a body of texts that they could reorder and classify on their own terms, Orientalists of this period initiated an epistemological shift in scholarly understandings of the historian’s work. Just as it beset the study of other cultures in the Islamic world, this mode of thought was at the basis of al-Jabarti’s scholarship. Early twentieth-­century Orientalists trained in philological methodologies classified the Egyptian historian according to the periodizations that they devised, and enmeshed his writings in their bibliographical categories. In time, they created a distinct historiographical tradition

36 37

 Talib (2009), p. 591.  Ruiz (2009), pp. 261–284.


H. Rasiah that dominated the field for decades and produced its own historical reality, whether it appeared in the Encyclopedia of Islam, which provided brief summaries of Orientalist knowledge on select Islamic topics, or in the prestigious Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies.38

While the philological training of the early orientalists betrays a mimicry of the Arabic manuscript tradition, it also sets in motion events that reconfigure time into a model reflective of European tradition, yet presented as an essential feature of Middle Eastern historiography. The epistemological shift is one that operates beneath the surface of disciplines, the unstated premises on which the intellectual project of orientalism turns into a reality. Multiplicity in history can lead to the relativism that absorbs multiple narratives but admits no truth, only contingency. In the above quote Ibn Khaldun seeks truth in singular terms. Is it possible to posit a universal truth after the collapse of the master narrative? Or is each perspective a fragmentary reflection of consciousness that precludes forming a coherent whole? How can critical theory contribute to pedagogy and the decolonization of history? Critical thinking in relation to history can explore intricate questions concerning methodologies, sources, representation and narrative structure to cultivate a sense of discernment, and healthy scepticism about facticity, the evidentiary basis of truth claims, reasoning processes such as deductive and inductive logic, and empiricism. Multiple perspectives, methodologies, modes of learning and forms of knowledge contribute to epistemological diversity, the basis for rethinking the discipline of history and the universality of the wider arrangement of the university.

Pedagogy of Decolonization Students reach university against all odds, overcoming barriers to access such as the institutionalized discrimination of substandard schooling. The transition to academic life can be particularly challenging when university structures are not representative of student demographics or equipped to provide the necessary support to struggling learners. An exemplar of learning who forged his own path of remediation is Malcolm X.  Known primarily for  a radical approach to inequality in the United States, he made significant educational contributions through his own lived experience, stress on  seeking knowledge, and critique of recieved wisdom.  As a student of history his analysis continues to deepen our own. He favoured history over other disciplines, saying “history is a people’s memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals”. This dictum lends itself to an open-ended discussion of history, self-knowledge and self-determination at the individual intellectual and collective political level. As an example of relating history from below, Malcolm X represents the possibility to know and to rehabilitate oneself in spite of


 Ibid, p. 265.

Making Global Connections: Critical Pedagogy and the Decolonization of History


roadblocks on the journey to self-realization. One such obstacle is official curricula that diminish the role of non-Europeans in history. Like other colonial institutions, the policies of modern slavery enacted an erasure of the past in an attempt to dehumanize Africans and their descendants, such as prohibitions on speaking native languages and teaching slaves to read and write. Finally, we got to where we had no language, no history, no name. …We couldn’t speak our own language; we had none. And he then began to teach us we came from a jungle, where the people had no language. This was the crime that was committed …39

With some hyperbole  Malcolm X suggested  selling a black American college to fund study in Africa.40 Critical of the excesses of university life, he believed students would benefit from a direct reconnection with the continent. He has come to embody the American Muslim, bridging worlds apart. His Hajj, and broader travels to the Middle East, Africa and Europe, reflect a wider pilgrimage in search of truth. His struggle for justice parallels his struggle to learn, and much can be gained by following these intertwined struggles as he moves outside the categories and borders that have consigned him to second-class status in the United States. In a reversal of typical encounters, he entered the Middle East as a guest and ambassador, rather than a conqueror. In terms of critical thinking and history, his public career as a spokesman for human rights involved analysing the media, relaying international events, and reconsidering the language used to describe the problems of the day. Moreover, he asked audiences to think without being “confined to the boundaries of America”. He never considered himself to be a professional historian let alone a student of the subject, saying “sincerity is my credentials”.41 Yet as an orator he delved into history and brought it to the public, encouraged its study, and offered his own account. “Of all our studies history is best qualified to reward our research.” He has been credited with inspiring the student-led campaign for Black Studies in universities, a broad effort to balance the curriculum by including previously absent voices. Bridging community and university, organic intellectuals such as Malcolm X carry weight in both activist and scholarly circles. The sources for understanding Malcolm X as a contemporary traveller in the Middle East and Africa supersede  the Autobiography,  mediated by Alex Haley. Speeches and interviews in his final year attest to the global scope of his activities and observations. Moreover, the recently published Diary of Malcolm X offers a first-hand view in the author’s pen (opening a discussion of the autograph manuscript) and fills a gap in the literature. Another memoir, Maya Angelou's All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, gives an eyewitness account of his activities in Ghana amid reflections on exile and diaspora.42 Angelou’s perspective on Malcolm X brings history alive in her own series of memoirs that flesh out the turbulent times in which they lived. The retelling of his life demonstrates that history, no matter how  Breitman (1967), p. 37.  Malcolm X (1965), p. 184. 41  Malcolm X (1990), p. 20. 42  Angelou (1987). 39 40


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recent, remains a matter of fierce debate. Malcolm X in this way embodies the repetition of the tale, in which his legacy is the ongoing storyline. As a reader, thinker and traveller he provincializes Europe and crosses the colour line as well as carceral, sectarian, national and intellectual confinements in his quest to understand the present as the living past. Years earlier my literacy students in Oakland’s North County Jail read xeroxed copies of the chapter “Saved”, the celebrated narrative of Malcolm’s rediscovery of reading in prison, widely considered  an indispensable account of intellectual awakening. A sheriff’s deputy disagreed, however, and after a brief interrogation withdrew my security clearance, another demonstration of the literal policing of history.

Connections The vicissitudes of modernity haunt any engagement with the history of the “Middle East”. Deploying the designation “Middle East” invokes a set of imperial relations coterminous with the modern era. The specificities of the Middle East and North Africa might be better understood on their own terms, beyond comparisons of shoah and nakba that produce a false equivalence of competing narratives. Incorporating local vocabulary and idiom assists not just in the effort of restoring indigenous perspectives to the broader discourse, but linguistic semiology that point to alternative cosmologies. Just as rethinking geography reorients us to the map, language gives us a grammar to articulate fresh ideas and to look within, a metaphor for critical thinking as reflection on one’s own condition in the world. To understand the specifics of one location is to take into account a relation to others. How this unfolds in different locations helps to understand the paradoxes of modernity with its conflicted legacies. In recent decades this metanarrative has been told by way of global and connected histories. Zooming out from the narrow frame of microhistories also brings into view a global picture. Student-centred approaches need not intentionally re-inscribe the privileged status of Western citizens. To reconfigure the geography of home, many students would reside in the “local South” of the polity, an internal zone of marginalization and alterity within the nation state. Drawing on student perspectives incorporates immediate experience into a larger conversation informed by scholarship. In this respect subjective perceptions can be interrogated en route to bridging the knowledge divide. Ultimately then students can gain more than historical and geographic literacy in seeing the map as a mirror of another humanity, and catch a reflection of themselves as belonging to the sum of human experience. If the partisan tone sounded here strikes a jarring note it only does so against the roar of populism. To trace the discursive influence of empire on its subjects at home and abroad is to take on intellectual responsibility in a time of crisis. In this regard the challenge is not merely to promote an orthodoxy that counters official versions of events, but to ignite a desire to know and think independently, to paraphrase Malcolm X. It is not enough to replace one version of propaganda with another, a

Making Global Connections: Critical Pedagogy and the Decolonization of History


peril of counterhegemonic discourse. Indeed, arguments against  war  may benefit from an exploration of critical thinking strategies. To mount a challenge to the cultural policy of militarism that infiltrates education and entertainment requires careful reasoning. The teaching of modern Middle East history enables instructors and students to engage the past with current affairs in such a way as to foster independent thinking and formulate a dynamic critique. Casting a critical eye on media representations, students can benefit from scholarly discourses on orientalism and islamophobia while observing the fluidity of narratives from diverse perspectives. The approach of global history that focuses on oceans and currents constitute a useful frame to navigate the region after having considered the fixed images that circulate in the media. Whatever the medium of engagement—literature, art, film, travel—students can take the best from class as a starting point and on their own terms discover new worlds of knowledge. In memory of David Robert Willis (1988-2019), independent thinker.

References Abu-Lughod, Lila. 2013. Do Muslim women need saving? Harvard University Press. Abu-Rish, Ziad. 2017. The Middle East survey course: Challenges and opportunities. Review of Middle East Studies 51 (1): 27–30. Angelou, Maya. 1987. All god’s children need traveling shoes. New York: Vintage Books. Ankersmit, Frank. 1988. Historical representation. History and Theory 27 (3): 205–228. https:// Asad, Talal. 1973. Anthropology and the colonial encounter. London: Ithaca Press. Becker, Jo, and Scott Shane. 2012. Secret ‘kill list’ proves a test of Obama’s principles and will. New York Times. Retrieved from Bhambra, Gurminder K., Kerem Nisancioglu, and Dalia Gebrial. 2018. Decolonizing the university. Pluto Press. Bonine, Michael, Abbas Amanat, and Michael Ezekiel Gasper. 2012. Is there a Middle East? The evolution of a geopolitical concept. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Braudel, Fernand. 1982. On History. University of Chicago Press. Breitman, George. 1967. Malcolm X on Afro-American history. New York: Pathfinder. Burton, Jeffery Franz. 2017. Excavating legacy: Community archaeology at a Japanese American World War II incarceration site. Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage 4 (3): 160–172. Cantor, Paul A. 1996. The uncanonical Dante: The divine comedy and Islamic philosophy. Philosophy and Literature 20 (1): 138–153. Carew, Jan. 1992. The end of Moorish enlightenment and the beginning of the Columbian era. Race & Class 33 (3): 3–16. Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2000. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial thought and historical difference. Princeton University Press. Chesworth, John. 2017. The Reconquista reversed? Muslim presence in contemporary Spain. In Contested spaces, common ground: Space and power structures in contemporary multireligious societies, ed. Winkler Ulrich, 191–202. Leiden: Brill. Creasey, Kate Elizabeth. 2017. The Middle East survey course: Some problems and some solutions. Review of Middle East Studies 51 (1): 31–34.


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Daragahi, Borzou. 2018. Meet the Middle East’s peace of Westphalia re-enactors. Foreign Policy. Retrieved August 10, 2018, from meet-the-middle-easts-peace-of-westphalia-reenactors-iran-saudi-arabia-syria/ Dussel, Enrique. 1995. The invention of the Americas: Eclipse of the other and the myth of modernity. New York: Continuum. Epstein, Edward. 2002. Success in Afghanistan hard to gauge. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 23, 2002, from Fisk, Robert. 2009. The demise of the dollar. Independent. Retrieved October 6, 2009, from https:// Gelvin, James L. 2017. What is the future of the survey course? Review of Middle East Studies 5 (1): 22–26. Gibson, Ian. 1992. Lorca’s Granada. London: Faber and Faber. Gonzales, Roberto J. 2009. American counterinsurgency: Human science and the human terrain. New York: Prickly Paradigm Press. Grosfoguel, Ramon. 2013. The structure of knowledge in westernized universities: Epistemic racism/sexism and the four genocides/epistemicides of the long 16th century. Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge 11 (1): 79–80. Hayden, Tom. 2013. The CIA goes to Hollywood: How America’s spy agency infiltrated the big screen (and our minds). Los Angeles review of books. Heere, Cees. 2017. Japanese immigration and the dark prehistory of Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. LSE blog: International History. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from https://blogs.lse. Herman, Edward S., and Noam Chomsky. 2012. Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. London: Vintage. Moustafa, Laila Hussein. 2017. Teaching the digital natives. Review of Middle East Studies 51 (1): 45–49. Jenkins, Tricia. 2013. The CIA in Hollywood: How the agency shapes film and television. Austin: University of Texas Press. Khaldun, Ibn. 1989. The Muqaddimah. An introduction to history. Princeton University Press. Lynch, Marc. 2016. Why Saudi Arabia escalated the Middle East’s sectarian conflict. Washington Post. Retrieved January 4, 2016, from monkey-cage/wp/2016/01/04/why-saudi-arabia-escalated-the-middle-easts-sectarian-conflict/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.8582f09e5dc7 Malcolm, X. 1965. The autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Grove Press. ———. 1990. Malcolm X speaks: Selected speeches and statements. New York: Grove Press. Mamdani, Mahmood. 2004. Good Muslim, bad Muslim. New York: Pantheon. Moyn, Samuel, and Andrew Sartori, eds. 2013. Global intellectual history. Columbia University Press. Olsen, Niklas. 2011. History in the plural: An introduction to the work of Reinhart Koselleck. New York: Berghahn Books. Pennell, Richard. 2017. Making the foreign past real: Teaching and assessing Middle Eastern history in Australia. Review of Middle East Studies 51 (1): 40–44. rms.2017.51. Pfau, Michael, et al. 2004. Embedding journalists in military combat units: Impact on newspaper story frames and tone. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 81 (1): 74–88. https:// Price, David H. 2011. Weaponizing anthropology: Social science in service of the militarized state. Oakland: CounterPunch and AK Press. Ruiz, Mario M. 2009. Orientalist and revisionist histories of Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti. Middle East Critique 18 (3): 261–284. Said, Edward. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage.

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Shields, Sarah. 2017. Correcting for the problems of the survey course. Review of Middle East Studies 51 (1): 35–39. Talib, Ali Ibn Abi. 2009. Peak of eloquence. Nahjul al-Balagha. Part 10, selection 98. New York: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an. Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1991. Unthinking social science. Cambridge: Polity Press. Wright, Robin. 2007. From the desk of Donald Rumsfeld… Washington Post. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from Yaqub, Nadia. 2017. Teaching with film and photography in introductory Middle Eastern courses. Review of Middle East Studies 51 (1): 50–54. Young, Becky. 2016. Most young Americans can’t pass a test on global affairs  – can you? National Geographic. Retrieved September 13, 2016, from https://news.nationalgeographic. com/2016/09/survey-geography-foreign-relations-americans-students/ Revel, Jacques and Lynne Hunt. 1995. Histories: French Constructions of the Past. Vol 1. Postwar French Thought. The New Press.

The Function of Bachelardian Epistemology in the Post-colonial Project of Mohammed ‘Abed al-Jabri Jordan Kynes

Abstract  This paper explores the function of historical epistemology in the thought of Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962) and Mohammed ‘Abed al-Jabri (1935–2010). Attributing thought with a particular function challenges our tendency to explain the development of thought in other socio-historical contexts in terms of mere conceptual influence. Available English-language literature on al-Jabri commonly references Bachelard’s concept of epistemological rupture as a source of inspiration. Though the reference is astute, this term remains poorly understood and has long been overshadowed by Thomas Kuhn’s notion of ‘paradigm shift’. The broader function of Bachelard’s thought as a renegotiation of time, place, subject, and reason in the natural sciences has been largely neglected in historiographies of the philosophy of science outside of France. This paper emphasizes the level of insight and ingenuity with which al-Jabri employs the function of Bachelard’s epistemology by re-interpreting it within the framework of his own socio-historical context. Far from reducing al-Jabri’s thought to a mere programmatic reproduction of French thought, I suggest that al-Jabri was among the most astute interpreters of this longmisunderstood theorist. Mohammad ‘Abed al Jabri, (b. 1936  in Figuig, Morocco—d. 2010 Casablanca, Morocco), has by any standard made an indelible mark upon the intellectual controversies of the Arab-Islamic world. His epistemological critiques of both Arab-­ Islamic heritage (turāth) in We and Our Heritage (Nahnu wa-t-turāth), as well as of Arab-Islamic thought in his four-volume Critique of Arab Reason (Naqd al-‘aql al-‘arabi), has been the subject of much debate, as much for their methodological approaches and conceptual foundations as for the highly controversial nature of their

J. Kynes (*) Faculty of Theology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 J. Hensold et al. (eds.), Religion in Motion,



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conclusions.1 Generally speaking, however, even his most ardent detractors admit that his work has been a significant contribution, if perhaps a philosophical gadfly, to a modern critical discourse on the history of Islamic thought whose interlocutors can be found from the Maghreb to the Levant, through Central Asia to Indonesia. He is the author of some 40 works and essays on topics ranging from epistemology, to the Moroccan education system, to monographs on Ibn Khaldun2 and Ibn Rushd,3 to the chronology of the Qur’anic revelation. Despite the prodigiousness of his output, the majority of his works can be seen as essentially directed towards a single overarching objective: a strategic project designed to induce a distinctly Arab-Islamic modernity. This paper presents al-Jabri’s project in terms of its entanglements with the epistemology of Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962), whose writings on the philosophy of science have been largely overlooked in philosophical historiographies outside of France. In doing so, we reveal a stark functional parallel between Bachelard’s ideas on reason, collective identity, historicism, and progress in the natural sciences in interwar France and al-Jabri’s articulation of an authentic Arab-Islamic modernity in the late twentieth century. To be sure, the discursive migration from the “scientific” to the “political”—i.e. from the natural sciences to the humanities, especially in post-modern theory—has long been criticized as a misappropriation of theory. Interestingly, when we juxtapose the problematics these two marginalized thinkers engaged, we discover that historical epistemology, regardless of the discipline or social context in which it is applied, has always been inherently political. It is the branch of philosophy which asks “What is to be done with tradition?” Therefore, beyond merely noting Bachelard’s influence on al-­Jabri’s thought beginning in the late 1970s, this paper seeks to demonstrate the essential ideological function of historicizing thought; a function which al-Jabri applied just as deftly in the sphere of religious tradition as Bachelard had earlier in the fields of physics and chemistry. Thorough treatments of Moroccan philosopher Mohammed ‘Abed al-Jabri’s thought in languages other than Arabic are few and far between. The bulk of this scant literature generally focuses on several of the most controversial theses from his most well-known works We and Our Heritage (1980) and The Critique of Arab Reason (in four volumes4). In 2018, an edited volume of English-language essays

1  Most controversially perhaps, is his thesis that the authoritarian style of rule in the Arab countries of the East (al-mashreq) is the legacy of an irrational epistemic model—known as ‘irfān—inherited from pre-Islamic Persian political thought. Jurj Tarabishi, a Syrian intellectual, took such exception to this thesis that he authored a four-volume counter critique: the aptly-titled Critique of the Critique of Arab Reason. 2  (1332–1406): Fourteenth-century critical historian and social theorist of North Africa, whose Prolegomena (al-muqaddimah)—the first of seven books of his history of North Africa (kitāb al‘ibar)—remains to this day a topic of interest for orientalists, sociologists, philosophers, and historians alike. 3  Otherwise known in the latinized form ‘Averroes’ (1126–1198): Twelfth-century jurist and polymath whose commentaries on the works of Aristotle were crucial for revitalizing European interest in Greek thought. 4  The Formation of Arab Reason (takwīn al-‘aql al-‘arabi) 1982; The Construction of Arab Reason (bunyat al-‘aql al-‘arabi) 1984; Arab Political Reason (al-‘aql as-siyasi al-‘arabi) 1990; and Arab Ethical Reason (al-‘aql al-akhlaqi al-‘arabi) 2001.

The Function of Bachelardian Epistemology in the Post-colonial Project of Mohammed…


on al-Jabri’s thought was published under the title Islam, State, and Modernity: Mohammed al-Jabri and the Future of the Arab World.5 While the work is indeed a milestone in the effort to provide introductory literature on al-Jabri to an English-­ speaking readership, sustained treatments of his epistemological foundations are largely lacking. Though the French philosopher of science Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962) is mentioned several times in connection with his concept of epistemological rupture, the broader parallels between his thought and al-Jabri’s project is never discussed. To my knowledge, few if any have even remarked on the apparent homage to Bachelard’s (1938) work The Formation of the Scientific Mind (La formation de l’esprit scientifique) in the title of the opening volume of al-Jabri’s Critique of Arab Reason, The Formation of Arab Reason. This potential oversight, I argue, might simply be a matter of historiography. Generally speaking, introductory literature on al-Jabri’s thought invokes the names of several familiar francophone thinkers as sources of intellectual inspiration: post-structuralists (Foucault or Derrida), Marxists (Althusser) and, less commonly, structuralist thinkers (Piaget and Bourdieu). As we will see, these references, while certainly defensible as a means of orientation, fail to capture al-Jabri’s unmediated insight into the potential for Bachelard’s epistemology as a philosophical polemic against the authority of knowledge in the Islamic sciences. This shortcoming, I argue, is itself the consequence of a kind of contingent cognitive habitus; the lack of deeper awareness of the parallels between Bachelard and al-Jabri’s thought is the result of a lacuna in Western historiographies of the philosophy of science. In the introduction to Mary Tiles’s Bachelard: Science and Objectivity (1984), the editor explains: [Bachelard’s] historicism which preceded that of Kuhn and Foucault has never been properly discussed. Some people may have heard of his notion of “epistemological rupture” through the works of Louis Althusser, but without giving serious attention to it – or even associating it with Bachelard himself.6

Accordingly, this historiographical “blind spot” appears to have been reproduced in many treatments of al-Jabri’s thought. The prototype of al-Jabri’s critical project was laid out in the 1960s—at least a decade before al-Jabri would mention Bachelard—in two baccalaureate-level textbooks which he co-authored with two colleagues from the nationalist resistance party l’Union nationale des forces populaires (UNFP). In Lessons in Philosophy (1966), he covers anthropology, sociology, developmental psychology, and epistemology without reference to any of the post-­ structural or Marxist legatees of Bachelardian epistemology mentioned above. The other, Lessons in Islamic Thought (1967), presents theses strikingly similar to those

5  There remains a glaring omission in al-Jabri scholarship with respect to his earlier works from the 1960s and 1970s: Lessons in Philosophy (1966), Lessons in Islamic Thought (1967); Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (1977); The Thought of Ibn Khaldun: Social Cohesion and the State (1971); and a general critique of the Moroccan educational system Illuminations on the Problem of Education in Morocco (1973). I see this omission as having contributed to a great deal of controversy over al-Jabri scholarship, and currently seek to fill this lacuna in my ongoing thesis. 6  Tiles (1984), p. xi.


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found in his epistemological works after 1980. The first testing ground of al-Jabri’s political project was therefore the classroom, where he was able to combine philosophy and political activism. We find the first reference to Bachelard in his Introduction to the Philosophy of Science: Contemporary Rationality and the Development of Scientific Thought (1976).7 Here, he dedicates the final chapter to Bachelard, who he sees as providing a novel solution to the rational-empirical dilemma in the philosophy of science. His interest in Bachelard’s epistemological “alternative” is clear in this work, which precedes the publishing of We and Our Heritage (1980) by a mere four years. What he saw in Bachelard’s critique of scientific reason is presumably what inspired all of the aforementioned Western theorists: a third way out of dubious theoretical dilemmas. Following these preliminary remarks on the textual relationship between al-Jabri and Bachelard, we now move to the contextual to illustrate the migration of historical epistemology between the distinct discursive contexts of France and Morocco; from the Western scientific discourse on the “crisis of knowledge” in the natural sciences, to the Arab-Islamic cultural discourse on the “crisis of authenticity” in the era of ‘decolonization’ and Arab nationalism. I begin with a general introduction to the broader socio-political and intellectual context in which al-Jabri’s critical project emerged, followed by an introduction to several prominent features of Bachelard’s epistemology as a response to the crisis of knowledge in the natural sciences. Finally, I will return to a crucial point in al-­ Jabri’s intellectual development with reference to his assertions on Bachelard and Arab-Islamic heritage from Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (1977) and We and Our Heritage (1980), respectively.

 he Problematic of “Authenticity” and “Modernity” T (‘ishkāliyat al-'aṣāla wa-l-ḥadātha) Al-Jabri’s theoretical work constitutes one of many contributions to a particular discourse on Islamic heritage (at-turāth) which emerged in the final quarter of the 20th century to address the heightened sense of social and cultural stagnation arising after the failure of the United Arab Republic and the humiliating Arab defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967. The roots of this discourse can be traced to that of the project of Arab “renaissance” (an-nahḍa) which had begun roughly a century earlier under

7  This work is essentially a collection of selected texts surveying the epistemological development of scientific thought with a particular emphasis on the modern era. The relative lack of interest in this work for his thought is perhaps the result of its perception as a mere pedagogical instrument, and not a work of philosophy proper. However, when we consider that al-Jabri himself selected both the texts and excerpts as well as provided introductions to each chapter and commentary throughout, its acquires a philosophical value as a translation of and commentary on modern science. From this perspective, it is easy to understand al-Jabri’s intense interest in Averroes, the fourteenth-century commentator and “cultural mediator” of Aristotle.

The Function of Bachelardian Epistemology in the Post-colonial Project of Mohammed…


the conditions of the European colonial presence in North Africa and the Middle East and included the notable contributions of Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani8 and Mohammed ‘Abduh.9 The newer “post-colonial” discourse, however, increasingly emphasized notions of identity (huwiyya), authenticity (aṣāla) and heritage (turāth) by virtue of which projects of reform (iṣlāḥ) and renewal (tajdīd) might be legitimately undertaken. In this post-1967 discourse, these concepts were more intimately tied to Nationalfragen than their discursive counterparts of the preceding Nahda effort in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In a paper presented at the Conference on Authenticity and Renewal in Contemporary Arab Culture in 1971, Egyptian literary critic Shukri ‘Ayyad noted that the textual proliferation of the notion of authenticity (aṣāla) began around the mid-1950s and “seldom appeared in the Arabic critical literature of the 1920s and 1930s”.10 This development should come as no surprise when one considers that the 1940s and 1950s witnessed the ascent of various Arab nationalisms (both nation-state and supra-national) within the framework of the so-called “decolonization” process. The concept served as a point of convergence between a sense of selfhood (dhātiyya) at both the individual and national level.11 The “authenticity” discourse in the early post-colonial period was therefore very much a product of the socio-political environment in which it emerged. Proposals for political, social and economic programmes could only be pursued in good conscience to the extent that they referred to some standard of cultural authenticity. The key to maintaining political independence, especially from the dominant capitalist-­ communist binary, was consummate with cultural independence itself. In this way, whether Arab or Islamic, the legitimizing function of “authenticity” remained a constant feature of political discourse, while the substance of this authenticity became the focus of vigorous debate. For example, Egyptian intellectual Zaki Naguib Mahmoud characterized the “authentic” Arab by his ability to appropriate external cultural influences. On the basis of this characterization, he called for a comprehensive adoption of rationality and a modern lifestyle while maintaining “the Arab cultural distinctiveness (by retaining) certain aspects of religious doctrine, art and social conventions not conflicting with the scientific movement in any of its branches”.12 Mahmoud’s approach was essentially pragmatic, being less concerned with distinctions between “traditional” and “modern” in favour of applying “whatever will be of practical utility”. Like Mahmoud, many theorists began from the premise that “modernity” was a phenomenon external to authentic Arab culture and would prove at some level incompatible with authentic Arab identity. Accordingly, the solution to the

 (1838–1897) Anti-colonial agitator and early theorist of political Islam.  (1849–1905) Islamic Jurist and early Modernist thinker who strove to reform Islamic education at al-Azhar University in Egypt. 10  Boullata (1990), p. 14. 11  Kassab (2010), p. 118. 12  Boullata (1990), p. 17. 8 9


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modernity-­authenticity dilemma required a negotiation, or compromise, by which the two might coexist for the sake of “progress”. This is what Ibrahim Abu-Rabi’ refers to as “adaptionist”, as opposed to the more extreme “rejectionist” position,13 which called for either a wholesale rejection of the West and all it represented, or an extirpation of Arab-Islamic heritage. For al-Jabri, however, the path towards an intrinsically Arab-Islamic modernity required neither adaption, nor rejection, nor compromise, in the sense of a bricolage of Arab-Islamic and European cultural virtues. He was sure that modernity could be achieved from within by calling for Arabs to modify, not their heritage, but rather their relationship with it in an act of epistemic renewal. In this way their authentic selfhood might remain intact. For al-Jabri, the “compromise” approach was a failure: not because of an essential incompatibility between “modernity” and “authenticity”, but rather because these two options formed a dichotomy that was simply false. The very idea of an either/or dilemma served an ideological function, as much for Arabs, who sought to preserve their identity in the face of a Western “modernity” which had been imposed upon them, as for the West, which demanded conformity to the project of universal modernity which it saw exclusively as its own.14 The reflexive recourse to tradition as a means of cultural and political renewal gave rise in part to what is known as the “Islamic resurgence”, but here too, al-Jabri identifies a procedural error in the way this project was implemented. Instead of functioning as a means to an end, i.e. a kind of reservoir from which notions of identity and cultural authenticity could be drawn to establish continuity into the present and beyond, the Islamists employed the notion of turāth, often translated as “tradition” or “heritage”, as an end in itself: a conceptual refuge into which the Arab “I” (‘ana) could flee from the “Other” (‘ākher).15 It is the breaking of the refuge mechanism, and thereby the false dichotomy itself, which forms the fulcrum of his reading of Arab-Islamic heritage in We and Our Heritage. Toward this end, he identifies a structural obstacle in the manner by which turāth itself was treated. The Arab subject’s conception of turāth, it seemed, had become an inseparable part of turāth itself (what al-Jabri called al-fahm at-turāthi li-t-­ turāth, or “the traditional understanding of tradition”). In order to overcome this structural impediment al-Jabri turned to epistemology. By his own account, the “traditional understanding of tradition” is so pervasive and overbearing that it keeps the modern Arab from reading his heritage in a manner consummate with the realities of the modern world. In fact, he claims, he does not read his heritage at all, but rather is read (maqru’) by it. What is occurring is essentially a melding of the subject (the modern Arab) and the object (turāth) under consideration. As a result, the method employed in the interpretation of turāth, whether “historicist, functionalist,

 Abu-Rabi (1996), p. 44.  To be sure, al-Jabri’s approach was itself clearly ideologically motivated, but he freely admits this in his own writings. For a detailed discussion of this topic see Al-Sayyed (2001), p. 45 15  Gaebel (1995), p. 12. 13 14

The Function of Bachelardian Epistemology in the Post-colonial Project of Mohammed…


or structuralist” is irrelevant as long as the basic condition of objectivity does not obtain a fortiori when the object that we are treating is as eminently a part of the subject—and the subject is as eminently part of the object—as tradition, the methodological challenge to be noted as a priority is therefore to find the means to disjoin the subject from the object and to disjoin the object from the subject, in order to allow for the rebuilding of their relationship on a new basis”.16

Al-Jabri argues therefore for the necessity of an epistemological rupture (qaṭī' ibīstimūlūji) with the traditional understanding of tradition (fahm at-turāthi li-turāth) in order to generate modern readings (qirā’at mu’āṣira) of Arab-Islamic heritage (turath). As we will see, the concept of epistemological rupture, and the particular approach to historicism which it implies, is key to understanding the strategic function of al-Jabri’s project, which was intended to collapse the “authenticity” vs “modernity” dichotomy as well as to liberate the subject from both external (Western) and internal (traditional/Salafist) models of authoritative reference. Al-Jabri embraced epistemology because he found in it the means to solve the “crisis of authenticity”, just as Bachelard had sought to do in the context of a similar crisis in the philosophy of science.

Bachelardian Epistemology Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962), in his capacity as a philosopher of science,17 was himself responding to an impending crisis of knowledge in the natural sciences which had begun in the nineteenth century and grew all the more significant with Einstein’s theory of relativity. Like the Arab intellectuals of the post-1967 debates on turāth, natural scientists were forced to reconsider the value of their traditions: of knowledge(s) heretofore produced in their respective fields. The future of Newtonian mechanics, Euclidian geometry and classical chemistry seemed precarious at best, having been overtaken by alternatives based on novel foundations. Scientists were faced with the question of the value of a compendium of knowledge which appeared to have lost its utility in the face of novel challenges: had this knowledge therefore been relegated to the proverbial dustbin of history? Here too the refuge mechanism manifested among “communities” of scientists—what Bachelard refers to as les cités savantes—who remained committed to accumulative continuity in notions of scientific progress. While Bachelard rejected the accumulative approach to scientific progress, he did not reject the “scientific past” in toto: it played an integral dialectical function as a springboard towards progress. It was

 Al-Jabri (1999), p. 24.  Bachelard was also a prodigious theorist on the poetic imagination. There has been much debate over the extent to which his interests in the philosophy of science and literary critique are reconcilable. Further reading on this topic can be found in Lecourt (1974).

16 17


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only by means of the past, says Bachelard, by a perpetual critical review of its content and methods of theoretical production, that science moved forward. In his earliest work, Essai sur la connaissance approchée, Bachelard explains that “scientific truth is, by nature, a truth that has a future”.18 From here, we can already begin to see discursive parallels between Bachelard and al-Jabri, not only at the theoretical level, in terms of the relationship between past, present and future, but also at the functional level as a response to crises of knowledge; whether in the natural sciences or the Islamic sciences (those disciplines including Arabic grammar (naḥw), principles of Islamic jurisprudence (uṣūl al-fiqh), dialectical theology (‘ilm al-kalām) and rhetoric (‘ilm al-balāġa), which al-Jabri takes to be the core textual constitution of Arab-Islamic turāth)

Epistemological Obstacle Most researchers working within critical, postmodern or postcolonial thought in the humanities are familiar with—or at least have a faint idea of—Thomas Kuhn’s concepts of “paradigm” and “paradigm shift”, which describe the emergence of new epistemic frameworks as spontaneous crystallizations among scientific communities. The term has long outgrown its humble origins in the philosophy of science and has become so ubiquitous as to have lost a great deal of conceptual clarity. At face value, it appears to convey the same phenomenon as the perhaps less intuitively conceivable “epistemological rupture”; a rose by another name perhaps. However, as indicated above, Bachelard’s epistemological rupture is distinguished by its particular relationship with the past. More so than Kuhn, Bachelard was interested in offering an account of the process of change; the very mechanisms by which change is rendered possible, and the identification of impediments to this process, which he calls l’obstacle epistemologique. To know, according to Bachelard, is “to know against a preceding knowledge”.19,20 Knowledge is not procured ex nihilo, but rather in contradistinction to what came before it. In this way, the past (old forms of knowledge) and present (new forms of knowledge) are forever dialectically related. Sciences advance by means of epistemological acts, which overcome epistemological obstacles through “a dialectical synthesis of its past and the negation of its past in order to create something new that maintains a relation with its past. The past is re-interpreted in order to be assimilated by current doctrines.”21 It is perhaps helpful to think of an epistemological obstacle as a kind of “psychological stumbling block” which is as natural to the scientist’s mind as it is to that of

 Bachelard (1928), pp. 60–61.  (My emphasis) “On connaît contre une connaissance antérieure”. 20  Bachelard (1938), p. 15. 21  Chimisso (2015), p. 4. 18 19

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the non-scientist. Despite his best intentions, the scientist thwarts his own attempts at progress when he succumbs to certain cognitive habits. The delineation and diagnosis of these habits is the task Bachelard undertakes in his 1938 work, The Formation of the Scientific Mind (La formation de l’esprit scientifique),22 which can be seen as a kind of psychoanalysis of the scientific mind. The first obstacle to overcome is that of opinion, which merely “translates desires into knowledge”. The scientist must therefore be wary of confounding the projection of his desires, some pragmatic benefit, with the very knowledge which he seeks: “in designating objects by their utility, [opinion] forbids them to be known”.23 There is also the empirical obstacle, whereby the observer mistakes his primary judgement for a value-free intuition, when it is in fact informed by a “more or less romanticized sensualism … which claims to take its lessons directly from a clear fact (donné claire)”.24 This obstacle applies as much to the laboratory as to the classroom, where metaphors and analogies employed as pedagogical instruments begin to accrue a psychological concreteness and lose the initial utility of their abstraction. As a result, whether in praxis or pedagogy, both student and researcher must constantly struggle to rid themselves of various affective impositions. As Bachelard himself explains: “We understand nature by resisting it.”25

The Polemic Against Philosophical Apriorism Bachelard’s position on the relationship between philosophy and science is unique. As a philosopher of science, he was not satisfied with the then-available philosophical approaches to science, claiming “science does not have the philosophy it deserves”.26 With this statement, he challenges the idea that philosophy is the engine of scientific progress. It seemed to him rather that science had surpassed philosophy, which was “not only incapable of reflecting new scientific developments … [but also] of describing the effects of these developments on perception and philosophical/scientific concepts”.27 In taking this position, he launched a polemic against all of the prevailing (particularly in France) philosophical tendencies of his time.28 In the course of his

 In the French title, the double-meaning of “formation” and “education” is preserved. Al-Jabri’s apparent homage to Bachelard in the title of his 1984 work The Formation of Arab Reason (takwīn al-‘aql al-‘arabi) loses the secondary significance in both English and Arabic. This is important, because Bachelard was very concerned with good practices in scientific pedagogy, and al-Jabri was a life-long educator who seems to have been equally inspired by Bachelard’s musings on education. 23  Bachelard (1938), p. 14. 24  Bachelard (1938), p. 23. 25  Bachelard (1938), p. 23. 26  Bachelard (1990), p. 20. 27  El yaznasni (2002), p. 17. 28  El yaznasni (2002), p. 45. 22


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polemic, he rarely mentions theorists by name, instead taking aim at the epistemological fundaments upon which their theories rested.29,30 In this way, realism, idealism, classical rationalism and empiricism, among others, are dealt with in turn. In failing to provide a satisfactory account of scientific developments, these philosophical currents had become somewhat of a cognitive burden, or a conceptual “strait-jacket”31 to the enterprise. Broady explains Bachelard’s dissatisfaction with the philosophical “state of the art” as follows: Contemporary French philosophy still relied on the nineteenth or more often eighteenth century view on the physical world and mathematics, treating fundamental concepts like cause, time, space, measure, mass etc in much the same manner as Kant did—as if logic had reached its final state with Aristotle, geometry with Euclid and mechanics with Newton.32

Bachelard took issue with the coercive authority of foundational epistemologies, because what was “taken as basic in any discipline at any period cannot claim to be basic in any objective sense”.33 The uncritical adoption of these epistemologies resulted in an increasingly subjective, even ideological, approach to scientific praxis. Bachelard therefore developed what Broady refers to as a “protectionist attitude”34 in the hope of liberating science—not only from its philosophical “strait-­ jacket”, but by extension from the a priori ideology of the researcher which reproduced itself in scientific praxis. To be sure, Bachelard is not accusing scientists of harbouring implicit political agendas beyond the laboratory, but simply of succumbing to a psychological obstacle. As Bachelard explains: “There comes a time when the mind prefers that which confirms its knowledge over that which contradicts it, or it prefers the answers over the questions. And so the conservative instinct prevails, (and) spiritual growth ceases.”35 The best defense against the “conservative instinct” is the question. In fact, the question is the very engine of progress because it induces critical reflection on that which is simply taken for granted; once liberated from philosophical apriorism, new sciences would be free to develop on their own terms and within their own unique problematics.36 However, the liberation from philosophical intervention came at a cost; it threw the notion of universal reason into question. Bachelard provides some measure of reassurance in his 1949 work, Applied Rationalism (Le rationalisme appliqué). In this work, having delineated the epistemological obstacles in the psychology of the individual researcher, Bachelard shifts

 El yaznasni (2002), p. 18.  Among those thinkers whom he does critique by name are Émile Méyerson, Henri Bergson and Henri Poincaré. 31  Broady (1997), p. 8. 32  Broady (1997), p. 8. 33  Tiles (1984), p. 34. 34  Broady (1997), p. 8. 35  Bachelard (1938), p. 15. 36  ‘Problematic’, here referring to a set of interrelated issues, is another ubiquitous term originally coined by Bachelard, and used extensively by al-Jabri. 29 30

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his attention towards group psychology, or the socially-constructed nature of thought. The title’s English translation is perhaps misleading, as it suggests a form of rationalism produced in isolation from its subject. For Bachelard, reasoning cannot be separated from the object or phenomena it seeks to describe and as such, no single authoritative model of reasoning suffices for the study of various subjects; reason is at the same time “informing” and “informed”. With this distinction, reason retains its universality when it informs. It is the organizing faculty of reason proper to every human. On the other hand, each distinct form of rational organization is inextricably bound to the subject of inquiry. It becomes regionalized, and therefore “associated with the subject which it informs, the phenomena which it regulates, and the phenomenotechnic which it founds”, and addresses “the philosophical question about the relationship of a general rationalism to these diverse ‘regional’ rationalisms”.37 This informed reason is restricted to particular scientific communities, what Bachelard refers to as the “cité savante”. From here, it is not difficult to surmise the socially constructed nature of knowledge production. In fact, Bachelard himself makes the connection between discipline-specific forms of rationalism and scientific culture. Whether speaking of a cité de physiciens, or a cité de mathematiciens, each “is formed around a kind of thought (pensée) provided by apodictic guarantees”38 and emerges as a scientific culture: Culture is an accession to an emergence; in the scientific domain, these emergences are effectively socially-constituted […] and one cannot judge it without belonging to it.39

Perhaps more so than any other quotation, it is this final sentence which captures the essential thrust of al-Jabri’s strategic epistemological project. It explains alJabri’s lifelong commitment to publishing exclusively in Arabic and his intentionally subjective choice of the title We and Our Heritage. It was a work intended for Arabs only.

From Scientific Community to National Community Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (1976) Only 4 years prior to the publication of We and Our Heritage, al-Jabri published his two-volume Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Madkhal ‘ila falsafat al‘ulum) (1976). While a deep reading of this work far exceeds the limited scope of this paper, it will suffice for our purposes to draw attention to one crucial feature:

 Bachelard (1994), p. 131.  Bachelard (1994), p. 132. 39  Bachelard (1994), p. 132. 37 38


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the closing chapter and “final word” of this work consists of three texts from the “philosophical scholar” (al-‘ālim al-faylasūf) Gaston Bachelard. In a short preface to these texts, al-Jabri summarizes and identifies the texts’ essential assertions. The first text deals with Bachelard’s insights on the “inversion” (inqilāb) of the idea of reality in scientific thought brought about by the quantum “revolution”: The scientific object was no longer a perceived fact (mu’ṭan ḥasiyyan), but a mental creation (‘inšā’ ‘aqliyy); a rational organization of relations bound with phenomena which could not be treated in the same way they had been treated by classical physics. Today, scientific reality becomes an expression of constructs (buniyāt), not of existing things (kā’ināt).40 The second deals with Bachelard’s critique of realism, which is “the realism with respect to scientific objects”. This is of course the empirical obstacle; the tendency to take analogies and metaphors as things-in-themselves. By means of this critique, al-Jabri continues, “Bachelard rejects the empiricist tendency, the idealist tendency and classical rationalism which relates a priori principles to thought”.41 In other words, Bachelard neutralized several standard philosophical tendencies by means of a single critique. Finally, with the third text “comes the alternative”: Bachelard’s unique form of rationalism “which rests on the axis between reason and experience, and rejects the departure (al-‘inṭilāq) from a priori principles just as it rejects tying thought and its processes to empirical data alone”.42 Herein lies the impetus for al-­ Jabri’s breakthrough project: to provide an alternative (between reason and experience) to prevailing ideological tendencies based on the epistemological analysis of methods of rational organization.

We and Our Heritage (1980) If questions are the best defense against “the conservative instinct”, it is only natural that Al-Jabri begins his work with a set of questions: (1) “How do we recover the glory of our civilization? […] How do we live (through) our heritage?” (2) “How (should) we live our (present) age? How (should) we treat our heritage?” and (3) “How do we realize our revolution? … How do we rebuild our heritage?”43 The questions are clearly “regionalized” in his repetition of “we”. The “science of turāth” which he is proposing is a science of Arabs and for Arabs, liberated from the apriorism of Western orientalist scholarship. The epistemological privilege of orientalists was of course not the only target of al-Jabri’s polemic. Like Bachelard, he also levels his critique against his own

 Al-Jabri (2011), p. 463.  Al-Jabri (2011), p. 463. 42  Al-Jabri (2011), p. 463. 43  Al-Jabri (2006), pp. 16–19. 40 41

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contemporaries, without naming them, by summarily dismissing what he describes as the three predominant ideological tendencies (naz’āt) of contemporary Arab thought: Salafi, Marxist and European liberal. With al-Jabri, Bachelard’s “philosophical apriorism” becomes ideology pure. From the epistemological perspective, they do not essentially differ from one another because they are actually built on a single method of thinking, that which the classical Arab theorists called “analogy of the unknown based upon the known” (qiyās al-ġā’ib ‘ala aš-šāhid).44

By virtue of this method, which al-Jabri attributes to the Islamic scholars of grammar and jurisprudence (‘ulemā’ an-naḥw wa-l-fiqh), the three tendencies are all Salafi (i.e. conservative, in the Bachelardian sense) in their reliance upon authoritative foundations (the known) in order to arrive at knowledge of the future (the unknown).45 Al-Jabri is not refuting the legitimacy of the method itself, which he insists is “scientific” (‘ilmi), but rather the uncritical fashion in which it is employed. To employ Bachelard’s terms, the classical scholars (“ulemā”) had succumbed to certain psychological obstacles in exercising their judgement. Consequently, the “conservative instinct” of their successors reproduced and reified their judgements until they became an epistemological obstacle and authority in itself. The “conservative instinct” which makes Salafism, Marxism and European liberalism appear to be feasible prospects for an Arab-Islamic future arises from the failure to observe the conditions (šurūṭ) set by the classical scholars themselves for the method’s proper implementation. Analogy of the unknown based on the known is not legitimate, unless: (1) “both are of the same nature” and (2) “they share—inside their single nature—one thing through which a fundamental element pertaining to both is expressed”.46 Invoking these jurisprudential conditions in his discussion of the conservative ideologies, al-Jabri is of course broaching the topic of “authenticity”. He then explains how the lenience (tasāhul) and negligence (tafrīṭ) with which the method of analogical reasoning was implemented in the various Islamic sciences since the “age of decline” (‘aṣr al-inḥiṭāṭ) led to the conflation of “the known” with the past itself.47 This idea, revealing al-Jabri’s ultimate commitment to principles of scientific enlightenment, evokes Bacon’s claim in his Novum Organon that: The syllogism consists of propositions; propositions of words; words are the signs of notions. If, therefore, the notions (which form the basis of the whole) be confused and carelessly abstracted from things, there is no solidity in the superstructure.48

 Al-Jabri (2006), p. 21.  Al-Jabri (2006), p. 21. 46  (‘illa ‘idha kāna ma’an min ṭabi’a wāḥida) Al-Jabri (2006), p. 21. 47  Al-Jabri (2006), pp. 22–23. 48  Francis Bacon, Novum Organon, Book 1, Aph. 14. 44 45


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In the case of the Arabs, al-Jabri insists, this cognitive habit was so fundamentally pervasive that it became a subconscious (la’ šu’ūri) feature of Arab reason (al-‘aql al-‘arabi). Al-Jabri goes on to explain that this “automatic mental activity” (al-nišāṭ adh-­ dhahaniyya al-‘āliyy) was the primary reason for the failure of “Arab renaissance” (naḥḍa); whether “the European past” (liberalism), the “Soviet experience” (Marxism) or the Islamic past itself (the period of the first four Caliphs as codified in the ninth and tenth centuries AD49), the Arab “sought ready-made solutions to emergent problems in a given source (fi ‘aṣlin ma)”.50 The word “source” here, (‘aṣl), is of course one substantive of the root ‘a-ṣ-l from which the notion of ‘aṣāla (authenticity) is derived. In other words, all attempts at a renaissance were preemptively doomed to failure because they were “inauthentic” to the Arab experience. The ready-made solutions of European liberalism and Marxism were applied without ever asking if their “natures” were compatible with that of the Arabs. The ready-made solution of religious Salafism, though culturally internal, was similarly “inauthentic” because it lacked the due diligence of historicism which would have rendered it relevant to the modern condition. The problem in all cases was essentially methodological. What was needed was a veritable epistemological rupture. The epistemological rupture does not deal with the object of knowledge, and as such there is no relation between it and the corrupt (fasāda) thesis calling for the casting of heritage into museums or leaving it in its place in history.51

Rather, the epistemological break deals with the “cognitive act” (al-fi’l al‘aqliyy), or, “the activity which occurs in some manner, by means of devices (‘adwāt), i.e. concepts, and inside a particular cognitive field (ḥaql ma’rifi)”. Thus, he explains, the concept (the object of knowledge) can remain the same even if all of the following continue to change: 1 . the concept’s treatment and the mental devices on which this treatment depends 2. the problematic which orients the concept 3. the cognitive field in which it occurs52 This holds true until the effecting of an epistemological break, which is the “point of no return (nuqtat al-la rujū’)”.53 It is the point “from which it is no longer possible to return to the preceding way” (of thinking). If this onslaught of terminology appears mystifying at first glance, let us consider the break in terms of the phenomenon of epistemological revolution induced by Einstein’s theory of relativity, for which Bachelard endeavoured to give a philosophical account. After Einstein,  To be clear, al-Jabri does not reject the significance of the period of the Rashidun (the rightlyguided Caliphs) for Islamic thought. He rejects, rather, the ahistorical and decontextualized understanding of this period which is the epistemological foundation of Islamic fundamentalism. 50  Al-Jabri (2006), p. 24. 51  Al-Jabri (2006), p. 24. 52  Al-Jabri (2006), p. 25. 53  Al-Jabri (2006), p. 25. 49

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concepts (objects of knowledge) like time, space and mass continued to be employed but were simply subsumed under a novel framework of understanding. Having reached the point of no return, the refuge mechanism was simply not an option for physicists who had grasped the profound significance and validity of Einstein’s proposal. They were compelled to give up their traditional understanding of these concepts. With this in mind, he insists We are not calling for a break with tradition in its standard lingual meaning … not at all. What we are calling for is: the relinquishing (at-takhkhali) of the traditional understanding of tradition; the liberation from the traditional residues in the processes of our understanding of turath.54

Conclusion It is clear that al-Jabri was profoundly cognizant of the epistemological controversies over methods in the natural sciences, and perhaps more importantly, of the political stakes of the sociology of knowledge which they entailed. These “stakes” are precisely what is indicated by my use of the word function. Bachelard’s account of the emergence of independent scientific cultures with “regionally” determined forms of reason served as a justification for disciplinary—in al-Jabri’s case “cultural”—independence while maintaining the integrity of science as a whole. The appeal of this approach for al-Jabri, an ardent nationalist who was among the first Moroccans to receive a PhD in philosophy after independence, was undeniable. As a philosopher, it provided him a means by which to circumvent the “modernity” versus “authenticity” dichotomy; to delegitimize his ideological competitors; and to justify a cultural secession on the basis of scientific rationality. As a nationalist, al-­ Jabri undoubtedly recognized the entire gamut of terms employed in nationalist discourse in Bachelard’s humble musings on science: liberation (taḥrīr), intervention (at-tadakhkhul), unity (al-wiḥda), independence (al-istiqlāl) and revolution (ath-thawra), to name a few. In this light we might characterize his proposal of a science of “turāth” and an “Arab Reason” as the epistemologically induced “secession” of a uniquely Arab-­ Islamic field of research from the domination of two authorities: European enlightenment universalism and Arab-Islamic traditionalism (taqlīd). This approach appeared to have the added benefit of being scientific, forged as it was in the reasoned and dispassionate reflections of the “Sage of Bar-sur-Aube”, Bachelard. If Bachelard spoke of the regionalization of rationality in a “politically weak” sense, indicating mere scientific or academic communities (les cités savantes), the broader socio-political implications of this phenomenon were not lost on al-Jabri, nor were they on Canguilhem, Foucault, Bourdieu or Althusser.


 Ibid., p. 25.


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This brings us to the potential objection that I am simply using Bachelard in lieu of any other number of “Western” theorists from whom al-Jabri drew conceptual inspiration. It is only through Bachelard, I contend, that we understand why al-Jabri felt justified employing a variety of Western theoretical concepts without fear of (unduly) being cast as a philosophical imperialist. This has to do with Bachelard’s understanding of the relationship between philosophy and science. The former was a tool which, when critically implemented, transcended cultural specificity, while the latter was always to some extent culturally-constituted. Philosophy for Bachelard, as it was for al-Jabri, essentially consisted in reasoned reflection on thought itself. In this respect it was at least a potential feature of all human cognitive activity. Concepts (the objects of knowledge), as al-Jabri explained in the preceding section, could remain the same (in name) despite successive changes in frameworks of knowledge (problematics). Al-Jabri felt he could “naturalize” (yuṭabbi’) these concepts in the Arab-Islamic context, without importing their (historically contingent) cognitive frameworks. He saw this as being perfectly within the realm of sound philosophical praxis. In this way, in the numerous works which al-Jabri would go on to write, he seemed quite content to reject European liberalism while promoting democracy and human rights in Morocco; to reject Marxism while supporting Arab socialism; to reject Salafism while affirming that Islam must play an integral role in any Arab cultural renaissance. Despite its resonances with major thrusts of the European enlightenment, al-Jabri’s philosophical project was designed to satisfy requirements of cultural authenticity and legitimacy; so that the Arabs, not unlike Baron von Münchausen, would save themselves from drowning by pulling themselves out of the water by their own hair.55 To do so, they didn’t require the philosophical templates of the West, but the audacity to critically engage their own heritage with a view to exposing the “history of errors”; to embark upon a process which would lead them on a unique path towards progress, an intrinsically Arab-Islamic modernity, and “the philosophy which they deserved”. In the course of the preceding discussion, the reader might have gleaned an ulterior motive in the present work. While ostensibly exploring functional parallels between two thinkers in distinct historical and discursive contexts, and thereby Bachelard’s significance for al-Jabri beyond the mere conceptual “adoption” of epistemological rupture, I am also offering an alternative account of the West’s relationship with its own philosophical heritage. With no small degree of irony, the lack of familiarity with Bachelardian epistemology, as well as the failure to distinguish it from Foucault’s adoption of his concepts and from Kuhn’s notion of “paradigm shift”, have themselves become somewhat of an epistemological obstacle to al-Jabri scholarship. In other words, our own “traditional understanding of our tradition” which makes of Foucault and Kuhn referential authorities for historical epistemology and the philosophy of science, respectively, has proven to be a hindrance to a

 I am borrowing Nietzsche’s characterization of the “Münchhausian audacity” employed by him in Beyond Good and Evil: “Sich selbst aus dem Sumpf des Nichts an den Haaren ins Dasein zu ziehn”.


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more nuanced scholarly reception of al-Jabri’s thought. The inevitable position of epistemological privilege from which we undertake the study of thought in other cultural contexts should not prevent us from being open to the possibility that we ourselves have something to learn from them.

References Abu-Rabi, Ibrahim M. 1996. The intellectual origins of Islamic resurgence in the modern Arab world. Albany: State University of New York Press. Al-Jabri, M.A. 1999. Arab-Islamic philosophy: A contemporary critique. Austin: University of Texas. ———. 2006. Nahnu wa-t-turāth: Qira’āt mu’āsira fi turāthna al-falsafi. Beirut: Center for Arab Unity Studies. ———. 2011. Madkhal ‘ila falsafat al-‘ulūm: al-‘aqlāniyya al-mu’āṣira wa taṭawwur al-fikr al‘ilmi. Beirut: Center for Arab Unity Studies. Al-Sayyed, Radwan. 2001. Iškaliyat at-turāth wa-l-ḥadātha fi fikr al-jābri. In Al-‘aqlāniyya wa-n-­ nahḍa fi mašru moḥammed 'abed al-jabri, 22–50. Beirut: Center for Arab Unity Studies. Bachelard, Gaston. 1928. Essai sur la connaissance approchée. Paris: J. Vrin. ———. 1938. La formation de l’esprit scientifique. Paris: J. Vrin. ———. 1990. Le matérialisme rationnel. Paris: Quadrige. ———. 1994. Le rationalisme appliqué. Paris: PUF. Boullata, Issa J. 1990. Trends and issues in contemporary Arab thought. Albany: State University of New York Press. Broady, Donald. 1997. The epistemological tradition in French sociology. In Rhetoric and Epistemology. Papers from a seminar at the Maison des sciences de l’homme in Paris, ed. Jostein Gripsrud, 97–119. Bergen: University of Bergen. Chimisso, Cristina. 2015. Narrative and epistemology: Georges Canguilhem’s concept of scientific ideology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 54: 1–144. El yaznasni, Mohammed. 2002. Dialektik im epistemologischen Werk Gaston Bachelards. Marburg: Tactum Verlag. Gaebel, Michael. 1995. Von der Kritik des arabischen Denkens zum panarabischen Aufbruch: das philosophische Denken Muḥammad ‘Ābid al-Ǧābirīs. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag. Kassab, Elizabeth. 2010. Contemporary Arab thought: Cultural critique in comparative perspective. New York: Colombia University Press. Lecourt, Dominique. 1974. Bachelard: le jour et la nuit. Paris: Bernard Gasset. Tiles, Mary. 1984. Bachelard: Science and objectivity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rethinking the Religion/Secularism Binary in Global Politics Abdul Gaffar

Abstract  In the post-Cold War period there has been a resurgence of religious-­ based conflicts worldwide. Religious extremism rooted in major world religions is often pitted against secular states/societies as the source of violent conflict in global politics. In other words the religious and the secular are often projected as binaries. Religious extremists are often characterized as “traditional” and “antimodern”. In this paper I argue that religious extremism is distinctly modern, thereby sharing a great deal in common with the “secular”. In order to demonstrate my claims, I look historically at how religion was first secularized in European history through the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants and in turn how this has affected other religions by focusing on two major ones, Islam and Hinduism in South Asia. Political Hinduism and political Islam both gradually underwent a process of secularization once introduced to modern scientific ideas via colonialism, akin to what Christianity experienced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe. I argue that the emphasis on nationalism and the alignment of religion with nation represents an important moment in the secularization of religion in the subcontinent. Both Hinduism and Islam were redefined and reconfigured by Hindu and Muslim political elites from the late nineteenth century onwards to create secular identities to “fit” that of the nation and defy traditional religious boundaries and geographies of time and space. An ongoing secularization of these religions (post the creation of a religion-based state, Pakistan) has only brought them closer to secularism rather than being opposed to it, which is generally the claim. Therefore, a more nuanced view of the relationship between the “religious” and “secular” is required.

A. Gaffar (*) Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 J. Hensold et al. (eds.), Religion in Motion,



A. Gaffar

Introduction In dominant understandings of the role of religion in global politics today religious ideologies and movements are often posited as repositories of tradition, the past and an expression of atavism. They are seen as antithetical to secularism and are thereby considered dangerous trends in world politics. Islam in particular has been p­ ortrayed by selected Western scholars like Gustave von Grunebaum and Daniel Lerner as a religion that has not modernized itself enough by espousing secular culture like the West and hence allowed itself to be taken over by “traditional” non-secular elements.1 They perceived that there is no chance of modernization, especially in the sense of intellectual renaissance and political development, and often identified Islam as a “tradition” inhibiting modernization processes and political transformations rather than considering Muslim societies as incapable of modernizing per se. Hindu extremism is no exception in this regard. Both Hindu extremism in India and Islamic extremism in Pakistan are seen to mark a disruption of the modern because of their inability to separate the religious from the political or public sphere. Hindu extremists like Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bajrang Dal, Rashtriya Hindu Andolan etc. endorsed theocracy by the trapdoor of a flimsy democracy. They relentlessly pursue egregious violence against the minorities and the Constitution betrays its ugly and unholy war against all the values cherished and fostered by an India that emerged post-1947. It questions the egalitarian and liberationist aspirations, and pluralist ethos of an ancient land, secured statutorily. The Hindu extremists have destroyed India’s age-old sanctities, stabbing and tearing the nation to bits, in view of its sell-out to and support for the worst anti-socials at home and abroad. The monster of pseudo-religious frenzy has lost no time in backing its bark with blood. Ayodhya, a place in the state of Uttar Pradesh, has been desecrated by a fascism stalking the land in the garb of Hinduism. The 2002 genocide in Gujarat and current attacks on minorities and women under the leadership of Narendra Modi are well anticipated by the perpetrators of the crimes. The prevailing sentiment then, especially in the West, is that Hindu extremism and Islamic extremism (like Jama’at-ud-Dawa) have to be countered with greater secularization and modernization, since religion needs to be confined to the private sphere as it is in the “civilized West”. This approach is echoed in intellectuals such as Samuel Huntington, the practice of American foreign policy, the attitude towards religious minorities within Western Europe and even in South Asia itself amongst its “secular” intellectuals and scholars although Western notions of secularism have been highly contested in recent years.2 The extent to which religion is entirely confined to the private sphere in the West has also been questioned. Both Hindu and Islamic extremists in the subcontinent themselves characterize their beliefs in nativist terms as an assertion of “tradition” and “purity” against the modern West and its  Maiden (2016).  Panikkar (2004).

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“corrupting evils”.3 Their visions are often portrayed by both their critics and supporters alike as a reaction to Westernization/globalization and as providing an alternative cultural world view and philosophy.4 It is precisely these binaries between the “religious” and the “secular” that this paper contests. In this respect some of the boundaries between North–South or West–non-West or East–West break down because of the secularization of Catholicism that eventually led to the rise of Protestant modernity. More discerning commentators say that religion was increasingly relegated to the private realm under Protestantism, where individual choices are considered more important than communal worship. Rather, what we now see is what Ashis Nandy calls the “imperialism of categories” in which both the West and non-West participate in constituting new kinds of religio-political identities, and resistance to those emerging identities can similarly come from spaces both within the North and South. In this respect the category of the “global South” as a sphere of alternative politics has to be rethought or dislodged from its geographic moorings to more of an ideational critical space that criss-crosses territorial boundaries. Modernity has been increasingly internalized in the global South and the very debates about modernity playing out worldwide. The religious as a separate domain outside the sphere of politics following a distinct religious grammar and language is increasingly difficult to find in the world today. Religion has been so worked over and through by modern secularism that it is difficult to claim that such a clear separation exists. In fact, modern religion has to be increasingly understood through secular categories such as the modern nation state and its institutions, history-writing, development and so on. Having said that, not all religion is political. It is important to distinguish between lived religion as part of the everyday or lived experience and its political forms; Mustapha Pasha makes a useful distinction between religions per se and religion as a political project or what he refers to as religious resurgence; the latter is the focus of this piece. He points out that religion connotes no discernible political project to reshape the state or civil society but a fairly heterodox set of quotidian cultural and religious beliefs and practices. Religious resurgence is intrinsically a modern political phenomenon […] [that] aims primarily to restructure national space, to redefine nationalisms and to redirect modernization.5

Religious extremism is, in fact, an inversion of modernization, from previously statecontrolled social construction to a process of social transformation by taking civil society as the instrument to reshape the political society. Religious extremism is not a rejection of modernity but an inversion of its statist (and previously secular) character. The rise of the middle class and fusion of mass media, including social media, are some of the major forces linking religious extremism to civil society. Religion as lived and practised and religion as politics are not always clearly separated and they do sometimes overlap. Various religious-based fundamentalist organizations do  Andersen and Damle (1987), p. 73.  Nanda (2014), p. 5. 5  Kemal (2004), pp. 135–152. 3 4


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draw on religiosity as part of their political programmes. However, they continue to seek their legitimacy in modern politics and modern secular institutions. This paper is concerned with looking at religious resurgence or the way in which civil society has often come to play a crucial role in supporting religious extremism. Rather than offering a framework of tolerance and civility, civil society in South Asia appears as an organization of largely illiberal, exclusivist and parochial social and political projects. Unlike Western ideas of civil society in the realm of emancipation, South Asian civil society has been manufacturing social tensions, including religious hatred. The term “political Islam” has been widely used to understand this phenomenon by scholars such as Olivier Roy and others. Olivier Roy’s work has insightfully demonstrated how deeply implicated modern ideas and processes are with Islamic extremism. According to Roy, Islamic fundamentalism is not a return to “traditional” culture but intrinsically linked to the Westernization and globalization taking place in the Muslim world.6 He points out that Islam has been increasingly privatized, tied to an individuated form of belief much like in the West, especially amongst the large numbers of Muslim migrants living in non-Muslim societies, who are more likely to search for a “purist” and deterritorialized notion of Islam or a global ummah. In its encounter with the West, Islam has been politicized and secularized including in selfproclaimed “Islamic” countries such as Iran where, he argues, “religion does not define the place of politics but the converse”.7 Likewise in Pakistan, Humeira Iqtidar assesses that Islamists are inadvertently facilitating the social process of secularization in Muslim societies. Iqtidar argues that religion has been privatized and acknowledges the process of rationalization that is also indicative of secularization. She asserts that contemporary Islamists increasingly rationalize religion as they successfully exist in market competition with other Islamists to take greater advantage in society. She emphasizes the success of “secularism” in Pakistan under General Pervez Musharraf and the doctrine of Enlightened Moderation  – and “secularization”. She further argues that “the Islamists are facilitating secularization at a societal level even as they continue to oppose secularism as an official policy”.8 In societies like Iran Roy argues it is politics that reigns supreme over religion or traditional law and the “effect of an Islamic regime of this kind is always its opposite: accelerated secularization with, for Iran, a decline in religious observance.”9 Thus for him overall, “the question is thus not that of the persistence of an Islamic culture but of the sudden appearance of new ways of religion becoming ideological and of new forms of religiosity in the framework of the modern nation-state”.10 Roy suggests that it is the Islamists and extremists who are the real secularists because

 Roy (2002), p. 15.  Roy (2007), p. 63. 8  Iqtidar (2011), p. 157. 9  Roy (2007), p. 63. 10  Roy (2007), p. 64. 6 7

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they “bridge the gap between religion and a secularized society by exacerbating the religious dimension”11 in a distinctly political fashion. In the case of Hindu nationalism, scholars such as Richard Fox, Vinay Lal, T.N. Madan and Ashis Nandy, amongst others, have pointed to its modernist underpinnings, drawing important connections between modern secular thought and Hindu nationalism.12 Others such as Shamita Basu, Partha Chatterjee, Sudipta Kaviraj and Sanjay Seth have pointed to the secularization of Hinduism that undergirded so many attempts in imagining a Hindu nation from the nineteenth century onwards.13 As Shamita Basu states, “the nationalist project of modernity could only be made possible by the political use of religion as ideology”.14 While this is a global phenomenon this paper focuses on the context of South Asia to demonstrate the claims on identities of two prominent religions in the region. The two individuals whose political careers in many ways mirror the rise of religion-based political identities in South Asia have been V.D. Savarkar in the case of Hinduism and M.A.  Jinnah in the case of Islam. Both can be considered the “founding fathers” of Hindu and Islamic nationalism respectively. A close examination of Savarkar or Jinnah offers us a window to examine larger macro-processes of the transformations in religion and politics in the subcontinent. The key argument of this paper is that like Savarkar’s Hinduism, Jinnah’s Islamism, rather than reflecting a religious world view, is secular, suggesting a separation and removal of religion as a way of life from politics.15 Here there is little room for the sacral, spiritual or transcendental. In fact these can often act as a hindrance to nation-building and the creation of political-national identities. Many steps have to be taken to convert transcendent ideas with their plural temporalities and fluid boundaries into secular ideas of the nation either rooted in “objective” history-writing as in the case of Savarkar or exclusive identities in the political language of minority–majority in the case of Jinnah. Both took these steps although they were never personally religious, as it is conventionally understood, to begin with. Ironically both went from being secular nationalists in the first half of their lives (although Savarkar less so) to “communalists” or “religion-based leaders”, although this was much more stark in the case of Jinnah, who was known to be a staunch advocate of “Hindu–Muslim” unity at the beginning of the twentieth century. Yet the term “communal” or “religion-based” does not capture the extent to which their concerns remained at base secular concentrating on political identities. In fact the secular vs. communal classifications in which much of modern Indian  Roy (2002), p. 40.  Fox (2005), pp. 235–249; Lal (2003), Madan (1997), Nandy (1997). 13  Basu (2002), Chatterjee (1999), Kaviraj (1995), Seth (2006), pp. 137–150. 14  Basu (2002), p. 199. 15  The claims of some Indian public figures in recent years that Jinnah was a secularist especially from the BJP such as L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh which drew considerable opposition within their party is true. Many secularists and modernists in Pakistan also have highlighted Jinnah’s secular ideas that Pakistan will be a modern democratic state. It was Jinnah’s constant refusal to make Pakistan an Islamic state that made all Mullahs and Maududis turn against him. 11 12


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history is placed remains internal to ideological self-consciousness and is captured in the lives, writings and politics of its two most well-known “communal” figures, Jinnah and Savarkar. The tensions and contradictions of their positions and lives mirror the ironies and tragedies of how religion and politics have played out in the subcontinent in modern times.

Savarkar’s Secular-Political Hindu Vision Savarkar is regarded as one of the most significant ideologues of Hindu nationalism. Savarkar’s conception of “Hindutva”, a term he first coined in 1928  in his book Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?, provides several philosophical underpinnings of contemporary Hindu nationalism. He is certainly regarded as one of the “founding fathers” of present-day Hindu extremism. Hindutva forces are known as Hindu extremism. While Hinduism is more plural, tolerant, eclectic and “pure”, Hindutva is seen as a deviant, distorted and perverted manifestation of Hinduism. The Hindu nationalists have argued that definitions of nationalism and identity in India are inextricably linked with the recognition of Hinduism as the defining and deciding factor. They argue that the nation is nothing but the physical and emotional outcome of Hindu aspirations. The question of identity for them, therefore, is an issue that is naturally settled in favour of a clearly delineated Hindu identity, while Muslims and Christians are “outsiders” and could be a part of India only after they accept the “national culture”. Despite these claims, the question of Hindu identity remains unresolved. Hindu extremists like RSS, VHP etc., which is commonly known as Hindutva, decided to eliminate Muslims, Christians and communists of whom India had to be purged: Muslims for having ruled, Christians for having converted, and communists for having fought the colonial British and led the peasants and workers against feudal tyranny. Thus, these groups want to establish its Hindutva rule of the privileged few, not according to the Hindu polity of ancient times, but as its cruel caricature and putrid parody. Savarkar’s ideas and politics are based on a clear separation between myth/history, faith/science and masculinity/femininity. He identifies to the modern/colonial belief in science as reason and progress while dismissing the realm of the sacred, spiritual or pious as superstitious, irrational and backward. Moreover, science is also associated with power and masculinity. In Savarkar’s ideology, there is hardly any use of Hindu concepts of statecraft, the interpretation of religious texts (not just their demystification) or the use of religious concepts of any kind. His vision of Hinduism revolves around concepts such as science, history, the nation state and a political identity. At the same time, in Savarkar, there is an absolute “othering” of Muslims, and an extreme hostility. Savarkar views Muslims as “foreign” because their religion is seen as originating outside India, a novel claim made in his work Hindutva which is

Rethinking the Religion/Secularism Binary in Global Politics


key to understanding contemporary Hindu/extremism/nationalism.16 By the mid-­ nineteenth century, through extremist Hindu figures like Savarkar or M.S. Golwalkar,17 political Hinduism becomes fully extremist in its absolute “othering” of non-Hindus and the attempt to silence them completely through various means as the ultimate outcome.18 Hence these extremists justified violence against non-Hindus in their writings.19 Savarkar makes a sharp distinction at the outset of his most popular work Hindutva between Hinduism and Hindutva, largely on politico-historical and racial terms: “Hindutva is not a word but a history […] Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva.”20 In other words, he argues Hindutva has no significant connection with religion, which becomes apparent once he starts to define a Hindu. According to Savarkar, a Hindu is not someone who believes in the Vedas or non-­ Brahmanic deities or follows certain religious practices or customs but a member of the Hindu race, whose holy lands are in India. The main criterion is territorial and ethnic, which he then closely connects to nationhood; all those whose holy lands are in India, such as Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus, are Hindus (also Indians), but others such as Christians and Muslims have “divided loyalties” (to the nation) as their holy lands are elsewhere. The criterion then for being an Indian is being a Hindu: He is an Indian because he is a Hindu. He is not a Hindu because he is an Indian. … India is dear to him because Hindutwa flourished there and because it is the Father Land of the Hindu Race and the Holy Land of his Hindu Gods.21

In Savarkar’s view, non-Hindus have no sacred associations to India either in their myths or holy places, and “consequently their names and their outlook smack of a foreign origin. Their love is divided.”22 Therefore, Hindu Raj (Hindu empire) is not based on Hinduism but on Hindutva. Substantially he did not want a theocratic state based on the laws given by the ancient Indian thinkers like Manu or Shankaracharya. He said that the term Hindu state corresponded to the terms German state, Japanese state, Afghan state, etc.

 Savarkar (1969), p. 4.  M.S. Golwalkar was appointed head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization, in June 1940. Golwalkar also expressed a virulent anti-Muslim sentiment. However unlike Savarkar he did not eschew language of the divine. See Andersen and Damle (1987) for more about Golwalkar. 18  Appaiah (2003), pp. 64–68. 19  It is likely that Modi’s “final solution” to the “problem” of Muslims in India would be vehemently opposed by the earlier Hindu “revivalists” such as Bankim, Vivekananda and Tilak. Modi has been using religious polarization as an instrument to consolidate voters and continues to be in power. Anti-Muslim bigotry remarks and violence under his rule has not been punished. The majority of his election campaign speeches are against India’s past history like Jinnah, Tipu Sultan and Nehru, which promotes the Hindu backlash against Muslims. 20  Savarkar (1969), p. 3. 21  Savarkar (1941), p. 260. 22  Savarkar (1969), p. 113. 16 17


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However, he excluded from the Hindu state everything that did not fall within the fold of his definition. Savarkar incorporated modernity into his conception of the Hindu Raj. Such a nation according to him should not only grow out of the historical and cultural background but also have science and secularism as its two wings. He, however, wanted the state to be named after the national majority so that it could grow according to their nature by reconciling their past with the present shaping their future in the light of science. His concept of Hindutva was aimed at defining the nation. Savarkar felt that only Hindus are the foundation on which the independent state could be built. He felt the communal interests of Hindus are closely connected with national ­interests. Savarkar explained why the Hindus must have their own country by making a reference to Muslim history, theology and political trends. He considered the Muslims as intensely religious, believing in the theological concepts of state. Savarkar felt that the future of Hindus is bound up closely with their own country, which gives them strength especially in the political area, derived through their history and culture. Since the Hindus are an overwhelming majority they constitute the national community and the minorities while maintaining their separate religions must cooperate with the majority community and merge themselves in its common life and administration.

Jinnah’s Political-Muslim Vision M.A. Jinnah had little patience for Islamic theologians, mullahs and maulvis, who he considered reactionary and conservative. He believed in a strict separation of the practice of religion and politics. There is very little in his writings that indicates that he saw religion as the basis of how the state would be imagined and governed. While many of his contemporaries including Muhammad Iqbal talked of an Islamic nation based on the teachings and practice of Islam in the twentieth century, Jinnah’s writings, speeches and public utterances are entirely focused on how to increase Muslim political representation so that they have a greater political voice. Nowhere does he express that religious authorities, teachings or practices should be the basis of the state. In both his private life and his politics, he had little patience for the actual practice of religion; rather, he aggressively embraced the religious marker of Islam as a political identity, wedding it to nationalism. Part of the problem as he saw it was excessive religiosity and a lack of political awareness of a unified Muslim identity. He believed “Muslims in India have yet to learn the political language”,23 which he saw as his and the Muslim League’s primary task. His life’s mission after becoming a spokesman for the Muslims was, much like Savarkar in the cases of Hindus, to unify disparate Muslim sects and communities into a singular Muslim political identity. Various Islamic practices,


 Pirzada (1981), p. 31.

Rethinking the Religion/Secularism Binary in Global Politics


sects and sub-communities and their differing views and ways in which to follow Islamic teachings would act as a hindrance to the larger Muslim political cause, identifying as a Muslim only under the banner of the political organization – the Muslim League. In a response to a letter written in 1939 by S. M. Zauqi, a Muslim activist who wrote to Jinnah complaining about how Muslims, especially the Khaksars,24 were refusing to unify as Muslims under the Muslim League, Jinnah responded by writing: “I do not approve of the different Muslim organizations. It is a sign of weakness and I entirely agree with you that Seerat and Khaksars should work as members of the Muslim League under one flag and one platform. Unity among the Musalmans […] is the urgent need of the moment.”25 Ali Zaheer, President of the All-India Shia Political Conference, complained to Jinnah (himself a Shi’a) in 1942 about the discrimination Shi’as faced from Sunnis and expressed concern about the fate of Shi’as in Pakistan. Much like Jinnah demanded safeguards for Muslims in India, Zaheer asked for similar safeguards for Shi’as in Pakistan once it was established. Jinnah’s response to Zaheer was that his concerns of discrimination were mostly fabricated, not “in accordance with facts” and an “internal matter”. According to him, it was “a great disservice to the Muslim cause to create any kind of division between the Musalmans of India”.26 Jinnah may not have opposed Muslims practising their own variations of Islam in their private lives (he himself was a Khoja) but none of that was acceptable to him in the public sphere, where he worked hard to forge a singular political identity. That was partly why he always insisted that the Congress recognize the Muslim League as the only organization that could legitimately represent all Muslims.

Jinnah as a Secular Nationalist to a Muslim Nationalist Much has been written about the “early” Jinnah being an advocate of Hindu–Muslim unity and a pro-Congress nationalist. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, Jinnah was one of the main leaders of the Congress along with Tilak, years before Gandhi emerged as the primary leader of the party. However, what is less written about is that the understanding that he sought to forge between Hindus and Muslims in the early years was based on a Westernized notion of secularism, which is the separation of religion and state. In context with India, he asserted that every community must come together as nationalists (as Indians) shedding their specific religious and cultural attributes. When asked in the Parliamentary Select Committee in 1919 whether he wished “to do away in political life with any distinction between

 The Khaksars often opposed Jinnah and the Muslim League. One of them even tried to attack and harm Jinnah. They did not believe the League represented their interests adequately. 25  Pirzada (1981), p. 393. 26  Pirzada (1981), p. 337. 24


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Muhammadans and Hindus”, he responded by saying: “Yes! Nothing will please me more than when that day comes.”27 Ironically, even in 1947 after the creation of Pakistan he made a similar statement. While addressing the newly formed Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in August of that year in Karachi he stated: We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community – because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vaishnavas, Khatris, also Bengalees, Madrasis and so on – will vanish.28

These religious attributes and identities were not to be highlighted in politics, but secular-nationalist causes were more important. Jinnah wanted to be seen as a nationalist Congress leader like Tilak, Gokhale, Pherozshah Mehta and others and not as a Muslim leader. As he told K.A. Hamied in 1927: “Young man, you think I am a leader of the Muslims. I am not. I am a national leader of India. I cannot work for the Muslims alone.”29 His own self-identity was such that he was not self-­ consciously Muslim but in fact highly Anglicized and deeply rooted in the cosmopolitan culture of Bombay, where these identities and their practices were often seen as “traditionalist” or part only of the private sphere (much like some of the Bombay Parsis who were very Anglicized and with whom he was closely associated, even marrying one of them). How removed he was from orthodox Muslims will be discussed in the biography section of this paper. Also a Khoja Shi’a Muslim from the business community, he kept his distance to the Sunni Muslim aristocracy of the United Provinces, who since Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of the Muhammadan-­ Anglo Oriental College in Aligarh in 1875, had been talking about the need to assert a separate Muslim identity in order to gain greater opportunities in British India.30 Contrary to the perception that Syed Ahmad Khan represented a singular Muslim voice, there were multiple voices amongst even elite Muslims.31 Some Muslims remained sceptical of the British Raj and attempted to reinterpret Islam from a Western idiom, as Syed Ahmad Khan was seen to be doing. Interestingly but not surprisingly, the ulema such as the Deobandis (from whom Jinnah distanced himself, especially in the early years) were also sceptical of Muslim appeals to separation based on nationality since they emphasized Islamic universalism tied to the global ummah. However, Jinnah understood the concern of the ulema and knew that their support was vital if he was to be successful in attaining a Muslim state.32 In the 1920s during the Khilafat movement (1919–24), Shabbir Ahmad Usmani emerged  Jawed (1997), p. 91.  Quoted in Wolpert (1984), p. 339. 29  Quoted in Wolpert (1984), p. 436. 30  Pal (1983), p. 8. 31  Ayesha Jalal points to these differences in her piece “Exploding Communalism: The Politics of Muslim Identity in South Asia” in Jalal (1997). 32  The trouble was that the Jami’at were propagating widely that the Muslim League did not have the support of the ulema. This was of great concern to Jinnah because the support of the ulema had to be earned at any cost. 27 28

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as one of the most outspoken leaders of the movement and Deobandi ulema. The movement was an agitation by Indian Muslims allied with other freedom fighters post-World War I. The idea was to pressure the British government to preserve the ideal Ottoman Sultan that had the duty to create and defend an environment of the uncorrupted community in the time of Prophet. Later, Usmani had singlehandedly broken the hold of the Congress on the Muslim religious elite in undivided India, and brought them under the umbrella of the Muslim League, which was completely favourable to Jinnah. Usmani further insisted that the ulema should not let the future government of Pakistan fall into the hands of those who were not practising Islam. If this were to happen, the ulema would have only themselves to blame. This was one way for the ulema to join the pro-league camp and to support it. However, the ulemas’ demand for the creation of an Islamic state that would be recognizable to the Deoband ulema was apparently ignored by Jinnah. Islam for them could not be contained within territorial boundaries; a position many orthodox held contrary to the Muslim League, even in 1947 at the time of partition. Ulema saw Islam primarily in universal terms and were suspicious of Muslim nationalist claims made by political bodies such as the Muslim League and its leaders such as Jinnah, whose Islamic credentials in any case were always suspect in their eyes. As Ayesha Jalal puts it, the orthodox Muslims “harbouring anti-colonial and Islamic universalist sentiments, immersed themselves in religious strictures at traditional educational institutions like madrasahs and maktabs only to end up squarely on the side of an inclusionary and ‘secular’ Indian nationalism”.33 These groups were therefore opponents of the “modernizing” Muslim separatists just as Jinnah was in his early political life but for very divergent reasons. For Jinnah neither did the position of the ulema and orthodox Muslims interest him and nor did voices such as Syed Ahmad Khan’s.34 He preferred not to highlight himself as a “Muslim”, and therefore felt indignation during one of his early encounters with Gandhi when the latter singled him out for being a Muslim. At a reception held in 1915 in Bombay hosted by the Gurjar Sabha, an association of Gujaratis, Jinnah made a speech welcoming and praising Gandhi and his wife Kasturba and their achievements in South Africa, especially regarding Hindu–Muslim unity. Gandhi noted in his response that he was pleased to find a “Mohamedan member of the Gurjar Sabha as the chairman of this function”, something Jinnah, his biographers suggest, must not have been too pleased about since he saw himself as an Indian first and then a Muslim.35 On another occasion at a public gathering in Gujarat, Gandhi asked Jinnah to speak in Gujarati and not English. Jinnah agreed but quickly switched back to English (it is likely he was not comfortable speaking in Gujarati and his weakness  Jalal (1997), p. 82.  Jalal (1997), p. 83. 35  Nanda (2010), p. 49. The Raja of Mahmudabad, a close associate of his, remembers Jinnah reprimanding him when he was 12 years old when he said he was a Muslim first and then an Indian. Jinnah retorted, “My boy, no, you are an Indian first and then a Muslim.” Cited in Jawed (1997), p. 60. 33 34


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in speaking Urdu was also well known).36 The audience laughed and Jinnah, suggests biographer B.R.  Nanda in his Road to Pakistan: The Life and Times of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, felt humiliated. Gandhi singling him out in public as a Muslim and reminding him of his inability to speak his mother tongue marked him in ways he did not want to be marked. For Gandhi each person was embedded in their community, regional, linguistic and caste identity and interacted accordingly. When Jinnah mentioned to Gandhi that he considered himself an Indian first and then a Muslim, Gandhi responded by saying he was a Hindu and therefore an Indian. Gandhi’s vision was for an independent India as a “Ram Rajya” – a mythical state of ideal government under the god Ram. Thus, Gandhi had a non-secular/non-­ modern vision in which all identities (religious and otherwise) were to be worn on the individual’s sleeve (as a member of a community) both in private and in public. For instance one of the most prominent Muslims in the Congress and a strong supporter of Gandhi was Maulana Azad, who was steeped in Islamic scholarship and deeply religious. Secularist Jinnah could never relate to the religious-minded or theological Azad and called him a “show-boy” of the Congress37 (interestingly, when Jinnah was a congressman in his early years, Azad was very critical of both Hindu–Muslim unity and of the Congress!). Gandhi was more comfortable with Muslims like Azad and was never at ease with Jinnah’s secularism. Similarly Jinnah did not know how to deal with Gandhi and often expressed frustration at his religiosity and his non-modern approach.38 Jinnah singularly focused on constitutional reforms and securing greater representation for Indians and Muslims and did not believe that the kind of social and religious reform as Gandhi was implementing should be mixed with politics. Hence in 1938 he would go on to say that “it is Mr. Gandhi who is destroying the ideal with which the Congress was started. He is the one man responsible for turning the Congress into an instrument for the revival of Hinduism.”39 Jinnah also strongly opposed Gandhi’s embrace of the Khilafat cause as part of the Congress agenda. He could not relate to those Muslims who were Khilafatists because he saw them as reactionary. He thought Gandhi was coddling religious reactionary forces both on the Muslim and Hindu side by making politics explicitly about religion and not sticking to constitutionalist issues like political rights, opportunities and representation for Indians in the British Raj. Jinnah saw himself increasingly alienated in the Congress as he could not agree with Gandhi’s approach to politics including its religious dimension and he left it by the time Gandhi’s leadership came to the fore.40 In many ways, even though they had sharp personal differences, Jinnah and Nehru shared much more in common in their approach towards

 It was Tej Bahadur Sapru who helped him translate a document that he needed as a lawyer to decipher in a court case. The document was written in Arabicized Persian. See Jawed (1997), p. 18. 37  Zakaria (2004), p. 65. 38  Jawed (1997), p. 233. 39  Quoted in Jawed (1997), p. 234. 40  Khairi (1995), pp. 9–11. 36

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the separation of religion and politics. Nehru was suspect of any religious identities entering politics, quickly dubbing them “communal”. Nehru viewed all demands by Muslims for even greater representation and a political voice as part of communal politics and believed Muslims should be subsumed under a unified nationalist banner where religious identities were secondary. Therefore, he could never reconcile himself with demands made under the banner of “Muslim separatism”. Nehru, like Jinnah, was also never entirely comfortable with Gandhi or Azad’s approach of wearing one’s identity on one’s sleeve and approaching Indian nationalism through their religious prism and not despite it.41 For Gandhi and Azad this separation did not exist. Jinnah’s greater self-identification with Muslim causes first emerged with the Morley–Minto reforms in 1909 which introduced separate electorates.42 Politically he would have been marginalized if he did not stand for elections in a Muslim constituency and espouse Muslim causes, which he started to do by the 1920s, but he did so by constantly attempting to bring the Muslim League and Congress into some kind of agreement on this question of Muslim representation within the larger framework of Indian nationalism. It was only by the late 1930s that as the primary leader of the Muslim League he espoused the cause of “Muslim nationalism” and the demand for a legitimate territorial space for Muslims where they were in a majority (however it was not necessarily a demand to completely break from India at that time as Jalal has argued).43 But was Jinnah’s break away from the Congress and his becoming the spokesman for Pakistan under the banner of the Muslim League a shift away from secular nationalism to communalism as is often projected in the scholarship44 and in popular understanding (especially on the Indian side)? Or were these breaks really not all that significant? In many ways Jinnah went from one kind of secularism to another and did not actually reject secularism in toto. He went from a secularism that emphasized a nation that comprised both Hindus and Muslims to one that emphasized only Muslims. Like Savarkar, who called for a nation exclusively for Hindus, he too emphasized nationalism. Nation as a secular-political category remained most important for him; he did not turn to a theological approach to organizing Muslims by emphasizing Islamism as a complete system of state and society. Some of his speeches in the Muslim League conferences do suggest the latter, especially in order to have a mass appeal amongst Muslims and project himself as a Muslim leader in the build-up to Pakistan, but nowhere does he mention the implementation of sharia, Islamic practices, laws and customs as the basis of state. In fact his speeches after the creation of Pakistan suggest he wanted it to be a secular Muslim nation along the lines of Kemal Attaturk’s Turkey, where religion would be secondary to the state.  Khan (1989), p. 21.  In the 1906 inaugural session of the Muslim League in Dacca, the only prominent Muslim who came out strongly against the idea of separate electorates was Jinnah. He argued “our principle of separate electorates was dividing the nation against itself”, quoted in Wolpert (1984), p. 26. 43  Jalal (1985). 44  Wolpert (1984), p. 338. 41 42


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While speaking to Pakistan’s newly formed Constituent Assembly in 1947 he remarked: You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. … You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.45

Jinnah as a Non-believer Jinnah as a non-practising Muslim becomes significant in light of the fact that he became the main voice for a demand for a pure land of Islam on behalf of Muslims in South Asia. It also indicates that belief, piety and lived religion can coexist with political manifestations of religion but are not necessary for it. The latter can very well do without the former. In fact the missionary zeal with which some of the leaders like Savarkar and Gandhi took up the cause of forging religio-political identities seems to have been stronger perhaps precisely because they were non-believers infusing a kind of religious passion into their “secular” approach to politics. If piety was lost to them (although I concede that Jinnah may have acquired some of it along the way and he may not have used piety in a purely instrumental manner as some claim), their religious mindset favoured and influenced their deep and uncritical faith in secularism. I have made a similar argument in the case of Savarkar, highlighting his atheism, rationalism and his impatience for Hindu customs and religious practices elsewhere and how necessary this was for his uncritical belief in modern concepts of history, nation state and political identities.46 In the section below I draw on Jinnah’s biographies to suggest that the private life of Jinnah offers an important prism in better understanding his public persona, and the two are not altogether separate. Jinnah47 as the spokesman for the establishment of a purist land of Islam would have surprised many who knew him in the early years of his political career, including perhaps his own wife. He was a staunch secularist even in his private life, maintaining a distance from most religious beliefs and practices. He ate pork, enjoyed his alcohol socially, smoked over 50 cigarettes a day, hardly spoke Urdu, did not fast during Ramzaan, did not go to mosques or was not known to pray, wore Western clothes (his biographers always mention his Saville Row suits) and regularly shaved his beard.48 He showed little interest in Islamic theology or learning and preferred little contact with religious leaders or authorities. Socially he had many friends from different communities, mostly Hindu, Christian and Parsi, “none of whom took

 Wolpert (1984), p. 339.  Devare (2011). 47  He was born Muhammad Ali Jinnahbhai but later changed his name to M.A. Jinnah to Anglicize it. 48  See Jawed (1997) for these details. 45 46

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their respective religions as seriously as their faith in British law and Indian nationalism”.49 His heroes were Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozshah Mehta and later G.K.  Gokhale. He himself belonged to the Khoja (Shi’a) community, many of whom followed Aga Khan III, the imam of the Shiite sub-sect of the Khojas which was often considered not “Islamic enough” by orthodox Muslims, but his being very Anglicized along with his “ultra-modern” Parsi wife was a double disadvantage for him in being accepted as a “genuine Muslim”. He faced these barbs on several occasions in his political career but he chose to disregard them until the late 1930s, when he was transformed into “Quaid-i-Azam” and he took the title very seriously.50 Many orthodox leaders were critical of the clothes he wore, the fact that he did not fast, could not speak Urdu properly and married a Parsi girl who never “Islamized” although she converted (unlike Begum Liaqat Ali Khan, the wife of Pakistan’s first prime minister, who was born a Hindu but converted with marriage and took her new religion very seriously).

Conclusion Jinnah’s espousal of a more political identity by creating Pakistan in the name of Islam does not indicate giving up secularism in the name of “communalism”; rather, it indicates a continuation of his overall belief in the secularization of religion, first by confining it to the private sphere for the first half of his life (if at all, as seen in his own life) and then bringing it into public life purely in political terms (i.e. the call for Muslim representation and political mobilization). Nowhere does religiosity suffuse Jinnah’s notion of what the realm of politics should be – in other words he remained a secularist whether under the banner of the Congress or that of the Muslim League. Only the kinds of political identities he chose to promote changed over time and due to historical circumstances. In conclusion, an analysis of Savarkar’s and Jinnah’s writings, speeches and biographies suggests how the term “communal” and its separation from “secular” is a misrepresentation of their interventions in politics and in understanding the nature of religion and politics broadly speaking in modern societies. The formation of Pakistan and the ongoing attempts by the Hindu right or Hindutva to search for religious purity and create homogeneous nation states and religious-based identities are in contravention to secularist projects. Hindutva has a clear political project in the same manner as political Islam was or is. While the Muslim League got a Muslim Pakistan by pushing the two-nation theory, Hindutva (not Hinduism) is arguing that they have not gotten their wish.

49 50

 Wolpert (1984), p. 18.  Ispahani (1967), p. 108.


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