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OBJECTIVITY, AND WITH ANTONIO BEYOND: W. C.

SUBJECTIVITY AN SMITH EXCHANGE

R. GUALTIERI

OBJECTIVE FACTS Part of the problem in interpreting Smith within the framework of the subject-object polarity is that the term objective is used in various senses which are not always carefully discriminated. Thus objective knowledge may be, in the first place, knowledge of objects construed as external facts or things. As such, Smith argues, it is an inappropriate category for the knowledge of persons who are not things but conscious agents who assign meaning to facts. In this sense, Smith's argument seems to be almost trivial-but only because his own contribution to the study of has made it religion commonplace. Respecting this first sense of objectivity as knowledge of external objects arrived at by an epistemological approach that looks upon them as neutral, impersonal things, I believe Smith's critique is in the main As early as 1968 in "What is Comparative Religion incontestable. I was a convert to Smith's view that the proper study of Comparing?"2 humankind's religiousness is the meanings ascribed to religious facts, meanings that are at the same time the meanings ascribed to gods, human, history, and nature. I feel sometimes that in Towards a World Theology (hereafter, TWT) Smith is still fighting a battle which he long ago won, namely, the

' This paper was originallypresentedat the CanadianLearnedSocietiesmeetingsin PrinceEdwardIsland,June 10, 1992. 2AntonioR. Gualtieri, "Whatis Comparative Religion Comparing?The SubjectMatter of 'Religious'Studies,"Journal forthe Scientific 6 (1967):31-39. Studyof Religion

108 characterization of the proper or at least final end of religious studies as the understanding and the delineation of personal meanings of traditions. According to this position, the object of my study cannot be simply the cataloguing of externalia, but the acts of consciousness in which devotees use their traditions to express their selfhood and to apprehend the nature and quality of the real world in which they live. It is true that the participants have a privileged position in that their consciousness is the primary datum of investigation. But I claim that my job-were I able to qualify for it-is to seek to understand this religious consciousness in which the cosmos is grasped and selfhood expressed through symbolic mediation. To put the matter in the language of contemporary debate about the moral rightness of 'appropriation of voice': I am entitled, nay obligated, to appropriate the cultural and psychological reality of others. But, this only with certain reservations. The first relates to Smith's principle of verification: my statements about the faith of others are intellectually valid only if in them the persons about whom they are made can The second reservation arises out of the recognize themselves. provisional character of all our assertions about the personal quality of faith. To this we shall return briefly. In seeking to understand and exposit Smith I have never relied much as an upon the category of corporate critical self-consciousness interpretive key, which is probably obtuse on my part given the importance that Smith seems to attach to it. Self-consciousness seems a somewhat arcane way of saying what Smith has insisted upon since at least the McGill University Inaugural lecture. Consciousness of consciousness crystallizes out as awareness of and focus upon meaning. The corporate aspect of self-consciousness appears at times to be nothing more than the integration of the outsiders' perception of external facts (or objects), and the insiders' perception of the personal meaning of those facts. Respecting our scholarly knowledge of the Madurai temple, for example, the ideal is the combination of the critical observer's extemalist;c, objective apprehension with the devotees' self-consciousness of what the temple means to them as 'temple.' I quote Smith at length in support of this thesis: of the templeas a humaninstitution, True knowledge as a reality in the life of several million persons, must incorporate its role in the consciousnessof within it as well as of criticalobserverson the outside,in so far as worshippers full self-consciousness, each is valid. The insider,if dedicatedto full knowledge, mustand idcallywill incorporate into his or her awareness the truth that outsiders see, so far as it be true ;and the externalobserver,if resoluteto attain to true

109 not only the critical knowledge,must incorporateinto his or her understanding analysesfrom the outside,in all their rigour,but also the realitythat the temple constitutesin the life of the piousdevotee,whichafterall is the primaryrealityof the templeas a factin humanaffairs. Thereis no theoretical reasonwhythesetwo persons,and indeedwhy all humanbeingswho may direct their attentionto this temple, should not ideally converge in synthesisingall this truth into one conceptualapprehension.This wouldthen constitutewhat I am callingcorporate criticalself-consciousness: with all of us recognising in full awarenessthat some of us worshipin this templeand someof us look on. This, and not theoutsiders' partial knowledge,is, I am suggcsting,the ideal at which to aim for human of that particularreality(TWT,66). knowledge Does this imply that only the insiders, the devotees, grasp the existential meaning of religious artifacts, while scholarly observers are restricted to the documentation of empirically discernible facts? Surely not, for this would contradict Smith's summons elsewhere to scholars to take up the scholarly challenge to apprehend the personal faith of others, that is, the existential meaning of the tradition. To be a compelling category of interpretation, corporate critical selfconsciousness must mean something more than the integration of a division of labour between outsider discernment of externals and insider testimony about meaning or consciousness. Taking for granted the importance of an accurate discernment of external facts (whether done by insider or outsider) the phrase "corporate critical self-consciousness" must point, in the first place, to a shared commitment of outsider (in this context this means the scholar trained in western academic tradition) and the engaged participant to find mutually intelligible words and concepts to express the life-world of devotees. The more I reflect on this, the more difficult the task appears not only because the language that dominates comes out of the western analytic philosophical tradition but also because of the universal and intrinsic difficulties of any language in representing the experience of personal apprehension of the sacred world. (I have wrestled with this problem in "Doctrines, Implicit Beliefs, and Cosmologies in Recent Religious Studies").3 There is, in the second place, an interpretation of corporate self consciousness that, though probably controversial, may in fact point to a profound truth of human existence. This is that at a deep level we humans inhabit essentially the same world. When we corporately become

3 and KlausK. Klostermaier Studies:Issues,Prospects (eds)Religious LarryW. Hurtado and Proposals(Atlanta,GA.: ScholarsPress, 1991)

110 conscious of ourselves, we become conscious that we share-in important same consciousness. measure-the This assertion goes against the grain of the cultural and hermeneutical relativism that is much in vogue today. It is not, however, a matter of choosing fashions; it is an empirical question whose conditions of answer, however, are very difficult to fulfil. One must immerse oneself in the life of others and call up a capacity for sympathetic imagination that pushes us to the limit of our capacity to transcend the boundaries of self and society. OBJECTIVE METHOD Smith's delineation of objectivity shifts from a claim that objective knowledge presents or seeks to present a knowledge of objects or things, to the Buberian sense that objectivity entails taking up a particular stance on experienced things-an epistemological objectivizing we But even as may be approached in commonly say. things perspective a less impersonal way that reveals depths and dimensions not disclosed to the objectivizing stance. One cannot but think of Buber's famous question of an I-Thou relation with a tree. Smith is instructive on the role of the investigator's subjectivity in coming to an objective, that is, more or less true understanding of the devotees' consciousness or faith. Here our focus is not on the facts or subject matter of enquiry, but rather on the method or approach to it. Smith rejects the objectivist stance as inadequate to the personal subject matter. By nbjectivi.st is meant here the attitude of neutrality in which personal qualities of experience, sensitivity, and commitment are expunged from the investigator's mind. Apprehending the faith of others involves the use of subjective experience and imagination, not as an unfortunate human inevitability, but as a deliberate methodological imperative. Smith assests: "I regard the participation of the knowing mind in the humanity that it seeks to know as an asset, and not merely an inescapable fact; and I would order our intellectual inquiry in accord with it, not in opposition to it nor in flight from it. Among my several reasons, one is simple: it helps us to know" (TWT, 61). This subjectivist hermeneutic and epistemology had much earlier been adumbrated in The Faith of Other Men and I relied on Smith's guidance when I sought to answer the question in the article: "Can we know the Religious Faith of Others?" (Religion and Society, 20 r 1973 l). There I stated that

111 that if one's own faith involvesreligious Smith argues briefly but persuasively implicitin the faith experiencesimilar,in at least somefeatures,to the experience of a personparticipantin a differentreligioustradition,one will be better able to of that other person's faith. grasp (in some measure)the qualityand significance He says: "I am simply assertingthe basic point that my capacityto apprehend significantlyand truly the religious stand of other men turns in part on the that I bringto it-the religiousunderstanding: understanding myown abilityto see or tangibleforms,myown faithin moraland spiritual morein life thanits material realities,my own senseof the divine-in a word,my own Christianfaith" Smith illustrates his thesisby alludingto the Muslim'sfaithin God,sayingthatthe ability of a non-Muslim to graspthis will dependlargelyon the extent to whichhis own faith involvesa similar orientationto God. He declares:"if you are atheist or then if the idea of God leavesyou totallycold or you find it repulsive, indifferent, it will be quite an extraordinaryfeat of sympatheticimaginationif you can nonetheless enter validlyinto the experienceof the Muslim;whereasthose of us whose immediateawarenessof God's presenceis vivid can much more readily appreciatewhat the devout Muslimis talkingabout when he speaksof living in that presencealso" (liie Faith of OtherMen [New York:New AmericanLibrary, 1965],77-8). OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE '

(i) Hermeneutical Truth I believe that Smith is also right in his answer to the question concerning the possibility of objective, non-subjective, non-relative knowledge of the world. These terms are, of course, misleading. Human of the inner life of ontological meanings, knowledge-knowledge the valuations, aspirations, repentance, and reconciliation-requires extent it is of the To that empathic engagement knowing subject. is a But it is not in another it sense; genuine subjective subjective. knowing of another. It is not merely a self-serving and distorting I have imposition of an egoistic will-to-power or imperial culture. discussed this in my comparison of the hermeneutics of the old orientalism excoriated by Edward Said and that of the personalist orientalism practised by Smith.' Foucault comes quickly to mind as an instance of the constructivist understanding of knowledge in contrast to what I am, somewhat provocatively, calling Smith's objectivist view. Foucault's view that knowledge is a creation of power relations is expressed in the following:

4 "Hermeneutics S. in Earl L. Sullivanand Jacqueline of the Old & NewOrientalism," of The University Ismael(eds), The Contemporary Studyof the Arab World(Edmonton: AlbertaPress, 1991).

112 The important thingis that truthisn't outsidepower,or lackingin power:... truth isn't the rewardof free spirits ... nor the privilegeof thosewho have succeeded in liberatingthemselves. Truth... is producedonly by virtueof multipleforms of constraint.... Each society has its regime of truth ... that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanismsand true and false statements, the meansby instanceswhichenableone to distinguish which each is sanctioned;the techniquesand proceduresaccordedvalue in the of truth; the status of those who are chargedwith sayingwhat counts acquisition as true.s My contention is that as a scholar of religion I am allowed to speak and write about the worldview, values, and experiences of struggle and fulfilment of blacks and Indians and Inuit, of Muslims and Hindus and that I can speak truly. I am, however, under moral and scholarly obligation to do it responsibly. My disavowal of relativism is also misleading. Our understanding of another person or another culture is never perfect nor final. It is always, as Smith reiterates, an approximation; it is in Whitehead's phrase always an assault on the boundaries of finitude. Here we know only in part. This is partly because that or whom we seek to know, like Heraclitus' river, is always in process, is not frozen or reified for once-for-all scrutiny and definitive characterization. But what is true of the object of our knowing is true also of the knower. Our knowing is a journey in Our knowledge of others grows out of a personal and understanding. historical context that influences what and how we see and provides us with categories of interpretation and evaluation. Perceptions and connections and alter and interpretations, deepen as we judgements, and our historical change experience. undergo expand Nevertheless, an acknowledgement of the tentative nature of our understanding does not mean that it is cognitively useless. It is a true, though partial, knowing of the world. (ii) Ontological Truth A further word of clarification needs to be said about the reality for which cognitive claims are made. The first aspect of the world which Smith asserts we can know is, as he insistently reminds us, the acts of consciousness by which participants in a tradition decode their symbols to find revealed the nature of the world as it really is, the distortions of

5 Selected Intewiews and Other Writings Harvester Press, Porwer/Knowledge: (Brighton: 1980),131.

113 This is the program of ignorance notwithstanding. of religion. Ontological questions regarding realities phenomenology existing independently of consciousness are bracketed; the focus of enquiry is on the acts of consciousness in which meaning is grasped. The point here is that these acts of consciousness can be understood, albeit partially and tentatively. It is somewhat perplexing to see Smith distance himself from phenomenology and then employ a characteristic phenomenological form, templeness to make his point of our need to penetrate past external data to determine the meaning in the consciousness of persons. Smith, however, makes a much more contentious claim when he abandons the phenomenological brackets (by whatever name) and makes ontological claims about reality as such. Not just my or their or our consciousness of God can be a proper matter of knowledge; the reality of God or, more generally, transcendence can also be known as a rationally In his Harvard compelling inference from the history of religions. Ingersoll Lecture this claim is made more cautiously as a reasonable hypothesis to account for humanity's symbolic and moral history that ought not to be dismissed out of hand because of positivist bias or methodological constraints. In the form of debatable hypothesis rather than firm empirical inference, Smith's position on human knowledge of as objective or true cognition is less problematic. transcendence Nevertheless, I have to admit to still being unable to find his conclusion rationally compelling. The point I wish to isolate for the present discussion, however, is that in the face of much post-modern epistemological scepticism, Smith represents a sane and salutary reminder that though we cannot know everything, we can know something objectively about the world, certainly in the sense of understanding significantly the consciousness of others. As Smith says, "Two of the fundamental qualities of humanity are the Not fully capacity to understand one another and to be understood. certainly. Yet not negligibly, certainly" (TWT, 68). It is not an easy matter to come to understand the faith of others, "Yet, they can be known, more or less accurately" (Ibid). Smith's attack on epistemological relativism and cognitive scepticism extends, as we have noted, beyond his claim that the consciousness or faith of others can be, in a partial but nevertheless authentic way, His cognitive claims also cover the possibility of apprehended. knowledge of transcendence that underlies consciousness. The distinction in forms of knowledge about reality to which I am drawing attention may be illustrated by reference to loan Couliano's work on otherworldly sin and

114 Couliano journeys in the Fall 1991 memorial issue of Criterion. distinguished the work of the historian from that of the epistemologist as follows: writtenor not,and triesto describewithinthe The historiangathersdocumentation, culturalsettingall otherworldspeopleclaimto haveexplored. Mostof this book, with the exception of the first chapter and the conclusions,contains such descriptions. The epistemologist uses the materialgatheredby the historianin order to examinethe truthof the claimsof all theseotherworldly explorers.In otherwords, as follows: What is the questionasked by the epistemologist couldbe rephrased the realityof these worldsthat countless peoplepretendto have visited'?Arethey parts of our physicalunivcrsc9 Are they parallel universes? Are they mental universes? And,in all thesecases, how was accessto themobtained? Smith, with boldness that defies the contemporary fashion of relativism trenchantly analysed by Alan Bloom (who deprecates deconstructionism as a "cheapened interpretation of Nietzsche"), asserts the genuine possibility of both kinds of knowledge. I agree with him regarding the first historians' type (though I have tended to call it I disagree with him phenomenological or hermeneutical objectivity). the second a cognitive product of regarding epistemologists' type-as scholarship.

Antonio R. Gualtieri Department of Religion Carleton University