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OF RELIGION: CONCEPTIONS ANTHROPOLOGICAL ON GEERTZ REFLECTIONS
of This article examines Geertz's well-known definition religion,with its emphasis on meanings,and arguesthatit omits the crucialdimensionof power, thatit ignoresthe varying its derives from the of social conditions theproduction knowledge,and that initial for plausibility formsof religionso characteristic modern (Christian) of factthatit resemblesthe privatised society,in which power and knowledge are no longer significantly generatedby religious of A evaluation Geertz'stextis accompanied brief of institutions. critical by explorations some of in The the ways in whichpower and knowledgewere connected medievalChristianity. article withreference thehistorical to conditions for endswitha plea forinvestigating religion necessary and of theexistence particular practices discourses.
CliffordGeertz's essay 'Religion as a culturalsystem' is perhaps the most of influential, certainlythe most accomplished,anthropologicaldefinition religion haveappearedin thelasttwo decades.Originally to published I 966,it in in The interpretation cultures was reprinted his widely-acclaimed of (I973). Like most of his writings,it is carefully, almost fastidiously, put togetherand a represents styleof symbolicanalysisthathas been adopted by many of his some now distinguished in students, anthropologists theirown right.It has for even foundfavourwithmodernexistentialist theologians its concernwith It cultureas symboland meaning.1 is an obvious textwithwhichto begin an of and exploration thestrengths weaknessesof recent anthropological conceptionsof religion. I muststress evaluationof thattext,what thatalthoughthiswill be a critical and It less followsis exploration notrefutation. is concerned withthesoundness of to or otherwise individualclaims,and morewithtrying tracehow and why forms 'religion'have come to be presented, of historically specific mistakenly, status.It is first an as havinga paradigmatic and foremost attempt identify to in of Thatenquiry, obstacles theway ofcertain types enquiry. broadly speaking, has to do with the themeof power and religion-not merelyin the sense in whichpoliticalinterests have used religionto justify givensocial orderor to a in and but challenge changeit (an important question itself) in thesenseinwhich the for power constructs religiousideology,establishes preconditions distinctivekindsof religious authorises personality, specifiable religious practices and defined utterances, producesreligiously knowledge. In my attempt formulate to questionsrelating power and religionI shall to draw on the earlyhistory Western of This will undoubtedly Christianity. be
Mla,, (N.S ) i8, 237-59.
Christianity haditsvery relations it with power.however. of are relevant other to religions.a system inherited expressed symbolic conceptions and develop their formsby means of which men communicate. This seemsto me a knowledgeabout and their of and one symptomatic a of questionableformulation theconceptof culture. processesare historically such definitions to whose plausibility todayis logists. perpetuate.238 TALAL ASAD seen as strangefor two reasons: first.continue offer thathave takenplace in the displacements strengthened the characteristic by of distribution power. There were different ways in which it distributed. createdand worked through of and categories knowledgewhich it authorised respondedto. is partof mybasic and of forms. A consequenceis thattherecannotbe a definition religion viable because and to the extentthatthe effects these of which is universally Anthropoproduced.because modern anthropology('the has fit itself to thought to address comparative scienceofhumanculture') rarely and of are Christian history. but which would not have made good sense in the Middle Ages.The very is a on dearthof work by anthropologists Christianity itself reasonforurging richdocumentary sourceswhich theycan them to turnto the incomparably distinctive on draw on to formulate problemsforresearch religion. religionand knowledgein Western (Christian) society. as or cannotbe regarded a priori irrelevant even marginal to sion of Christianity for it.it would be a mistake anthropologists think is of relevance thekindsofsocietytheyusuallystudy. Religious power was differently and thrust.and suggeststhatresortto the conceptof culturewould reviveit. butit mustbe clearly of and therefore discusa a-historical definition religion.pre-conditions effects what argumentthatsociallyidentifiable from was categorisedas religionin the medievalepoch were quite different those so categorisedin modern society.reproducedand transformed. to problem therefore little on It Thereis a final reasonforfocusing Christian history. Geertz's and of is attempt onlythebest-known mostelaborate these. Geertz begins by observing that the anthropologicalstudy of religion is stagnant. aregivento understand. enables and and knowledgeabout their perpetuate developtheir people to communicate. thatcharacteristics Christianity notnecessarily understood thatGeertz'senterprise to is This may be so.Culture.The secondis thatGeertzmakes in aboutreligion but disquisition no explicit reference Christianity hisgeneral to and therefore may be felt it adduces examplesfromIndic and tribalreligions. is we weaknessin muchthat to follow. transmitted Culture is then definedas 'an historically patternof meanings of in embodiedin symbols. theorising and pursuingit in a way distinctive preoccupation for to thatthe thatis quiteunique. in matters thiskindmostanthropologists atleastas as traditional thesocietiestheyusuallystudy. and different of made available. I have focusedon Christianity a numberof positivereasons. attitudes towardlife'(I973: 89). had a different different selves whichit shaped and institutions.The early provides a particularly splendid field for analysing historyof Christianity But although has betweenpowerandreligion. life: of towards but thereis no conceptof the relationship cultureso attitudes . a formulate universal.
) is differentiated butlinkedto (any from not conception meaning)-is latersupplemented others entirely (its by consistent out withit.event. To what degree.TALAL ASAD 239 conceivedto 'life'itself.quality.itselftheoretically abstractable from 9I).A consequenceof thisgeneralformulation is thatwhen religionis conceptualised laterin termsof communalsymbols. imagined.ifat all. is itself conception: number written. Indeed the very expressions'knowledge about' and a as towards' suggest distanced life 'attitudes spectator-role. a even as a conception symbolhas an intrinsic connexionwithempirical events fromwhich it is merely'theoretically' separable:'the symbolicdimensionof social events is.etc. This bold formulais intendedto articulate series of which will together establish statusof religionas a universal the disquisitions cultural phenomenon.all one needsto know is can described. are ofexamining how 'knowledge'and 'attitudes' related material to conditions and to what extenttheyare formedby them.laid out as a row ofstones.foritturns thatthesymbolis notan objectwhichservesas a vehicle it the 'The fora conception. to thematerial or conditions activities maintainand for ing (or changing) life.howeveroften they mayfunction such' (I973: 92).2 how thatcongruence be fully of A This conception culture thescenefora definition religion. 'Symbol' will be takento denote 'any Geertz'sfirst whichservesas a vehiclefora conception object.which 'religious symbols 'a specific(if. religion. 6. an sometimes itsrepresentation. a symbol'(I973: 9I).it in and discourses.implicit)metaphysic'.clear.fortheselatter not in themselves our traffic are as symbols. and this makes it difficult enquireintothewaysin whichthetwo areconnected.or relation is -the conception thesymbol's"meaning"' (I973: 9I). of are These divergencies symptomsof the factthatcognitivequestionsare mixed up in Geertz's account with communicative ones. But thissimple. It is only and social activities. statement-inwhichsymbol object. beginwith to To thoseevents empirical as totalities' (I973: At other he times. and regarded will be isolatedfromsocial practices primarily The trouble withthisis thatit closes offthepossibility of terms consciousness. task is to definesymbol. has area of investigation been dismissedfromthestartthat because thisentire between'a particular Geertzis able to asserta basic congruence styleoflife'and most often. is '(i) a systemof symbolswhich act to (2) establishpowerful. Geertz sometimes seemsto suggest Furthermore. in moods and motivations men by (3) formulating pervasive. comparedto 'knowin' ledge from'and 'attitudes living. 'life' and 'culture'imitating of is For Geertztheexistence a congruence a 'truism'. of sets we are told. formulate' (I973: 90).act. Thus 'symbol'is sometimes aspectof reality. like the psychological. that of stresses importance keepingsymbolsand empirical the objectsquiteseparate: 'thereis something be said fornot confusing traffic to our withsymbolswith withobjectsor humanbeings. a 'congruence'actually exists. . however. level (in language)or somehow by it whether takesplace at a purelydiscursive each other-such questionsare neverconsidered.and long-lasting of and (4) clothing theseconceptions conceptions a generalorderof existence that seemuniquely withsuchan auraoffactuality (5) themoods andmotivations a realistic'(I973: 90).or evenpunchedintotheprogram is tapesofa computer.
This alleged connected.240 TALAL ASAD have done. What is being argued is that the authoritative is concepts/discourses dependenton the socially appropriateproductionof the and other discourses/activities.7 .thatis have an intrinsic 'culturepatterns bothby shaping reality objectiveconceptualform.Nor does thisnotionof excludethepossibility conflicting of and culture conceptions discourses patterns -whether in the'models of' sense.says Geertz.6This of means thatthe formation what we have herecalled 'symbols' (complexes. Extrinsic.However.are also culture sourcesofinformation' because'theylie outside 'extrinsic (I973: 92).3 by significance. And sourcesof information the sense that'theyprovidea blueprint can be given a templatein termsof which processesexternalto themselves we form'(I973: 92). as world of theboundaries theindividual organism suchin thatinter-subjective are into of common understandings whichall humanindividuals born' (I973: in or 92). that'a symbol'is notan object we mightsay. two are intrinsically not just temporally and theyconstitute patterns. at the to end of this discussion. by the social relations which the whichhe or she is permitted growingchildis involved-by thesocial activities or encouragedor obliged to undertake-in whichother'symbols' (speechand significant movements)are crucial.maybe thought as as 'modelsfor reality' well as 'models ofreality'. in in concepts)is conditioned. Systemsof symbols.The as dangerof Geertz'sexposition.4 Now. ifwe start havingatonce an intellectual an emotional and can of defining symbolalongthese lines. Itmustbe stressed thisis nota matter urging the to function-sucha distinction is studyoftheoriginofsymbolsin addition their status of not relevanthere. 'What are the conditions(discursiveand which help to explainhow symbolscome to be constructed.to social and psychological themselvesto it and by shaping it to themselves'(I973: 93).or in thatof 'models for'. Thus culture of definite patterns.5a number questions be raisedaboutthe whichexplainhow suchcomplexesandconcepts come to be formed. of of Whilethenotionof systems symbolsbeing'outsidetheboundaries the individual' is a bizarre one (are words we say to ourselves in silence not by symbols?). arenot withknownow to theview that'symbols'mustonlybe concerned confined life towards (as thoughsymbolswereone thing and life and attitudes ledge about involved (not least of all control of the quite another)-there are practices are meansof existence).as a numberofwriters between or eventwhich servesto carrya 'meaning'but a set of relationships objects or events uniquely broughttogetheras complexes or as concepts. aretold. conditions is how theirformation relatedto modes of communication. partat least. symbolsas representationsboththeconstitfor material of uentsand theproducts socialpractice (and so of'life').Geertzunfortunately regresses his earlierposition: double aspect: theygive meaning.partof thediscussiondoes open up new possibilities speakingof is We modelling:thenotionof 'modelsforreality' well worthpursuing. and in particular Half-a-century ago Vygotskywas able to show how the developmentof of is children'sintellect dependenton the internalisation social speech.is of it that that could be ruledout. non-discursive) as or as and how some of themare established natural authoritative opposed to elementin anthropological others?'thenbecomes an important enquiry.where 'symbols' are presented suigeneris.
is thatit is not simply'worship'but social and economicinstitutions 10 are general.evidencefor and mustbe accessibleat thelevelof social behaviour. of course.that society. we set say of someone with a 'distinctive' of dispositionsthathe is or is not a Christian?9 The answer to both questionsmust surelybe no. If it is objected thatmodern.an atheist's doubts. and to states.Religioussymbolsact 'by inducingin theworshipper set distinctive ofdispositions certain (tendencies. stand how social variation can ever occur-even if we were to attribute a within cultural to difference (tautologically) different pattern everysignificant of withits implication fit. formulation their of rolewhichis clearer.'symbols'areset againstmentalstates. The notionof climate of as and conflicts over coursevague enoughto includesuchthings majordisputes loss and But then religious principle. or at any ratequite unlikethesmall-scalesocietieswhichanthropologists typically study.liabilities.in his essay. ofinward their existence not . evidence for which cannot (almost by definition) made available to an atheist.moreoften Occasionally. whichlend a chronic character theflowofhis habits.There are hintshereof Radcliffe-Brown's theoryof the social functionof ritual. withinwhichindividualbiographies lived out. skills.industrial societyis unique.TALAL ASAD 24I makesit verydifficult undertowardsisomorphism. to tendency incidentally. the dubiousthepropositions Can we predict 'distinctive' ofdispositions set in fora Christian can worshipper modern. and also at first Geertzhas another a sightmorepersuasive. so the notion of 'shaping' (an action so deliberate.forthatmatter. A committed Christian mightstill a want to say something bitlike Geertz-to claim. progressive offaith. seems to lead Geertzinto an impasse.This seems the case when concretereligioussymbols are said both to certainly is 'expresstheworld's climateand shapeit' (I973: 95). withsymbols. These are.one can of definition religion mustcoverall cases or it ceasesto onlyreplythata general be general. thatlend a stable character theflowofa Christian's to and activity to thequalityofhisexperience. Of course this is not his only metaphorfor action by religioussymbols. propensities. he moves away froma notionof symbolswhich focuseson therelations betweensociallysignifying and back to a notionof symbolsas and psychologically organising practices.8but only hints.industrial society? Alternatively.in otherwords. And again. controlled)somethingas nebulous and volatile as a 'world's climate'is not exactlyeasy to grasp. By adoptingit.but it Geertzhas when he treats is an indication thedifficulty of religioussymbolsas active.It is again the metaphorof reflection. Always a person'sconfrontation of symbolsseemsto implytheimpossibility choosingfromamong them. The reason.itis people who do things with it is symbolsthatdo thingsto people. meaning-carrying objectsexternal social conditions mental Yet it is evident that Geertz also thinksof symbols as 'doing' something. an internal for efficacy religioussymbols in and throughworship. pronenesses) to and activity thequalityofhisexperience' (I973: 95). Careful thoughtwill show how are. even.But it mustbe be stressed thatthisis only'a bit'likeGeertz.of in course. capacities. as such.The dispositions withwhichGeertzis are concerned primarily social and not metaphysical.
admonitio. eruditio.Augustinealreadygave themthe same answeras he would give to thePelagians:thefinal.so 'readyto lie down' was thefallen the of die would rather thanbecomea childagain.whereasmoods are "made meaningful" withreference theconditions to from whichtheyareconceivedto spring'(I973: 97). a deeplycommitted surelycannotbe unconcerned of at theexistence truthful religious symbolsthat appearto be largely powerless in modern society. produce two kinds of dispositions. a 'teachingby In eruditio.as Pelagius would laterquote. backintothehorrors hisown schooldays.Yet he was obsessedby thedifficulties thought. their butwhichwas often imposedon them. harshness. coerciveprocesses. that insisting coercionwas a condition of and to fortherealisation truth.and no one has in dealt with it more impressively Christianthoughtthan St Augustine.Fallen men had Even man's greatest achievements had been made possible only by a come to need restraint. was a greatintellect. Religious symbols.242 TALAL ASAD us being. This was a corrective processof and warning. moods motivations: and 'motivations "made meaningful" are withreference the to ends towardswhichtheyare conceivedto conduce. thought thisdisciplina. whichhumanbeingswererecalled.whichmendid notnecessarily by chooseforthemselves. as manyof his moretraditional of Roman contemporaries as thestatic did. discipline essential itsmaintenance. Nonetheless. of Augustine developedhisviews on thecreative religious function power after his experience withtheDonatistheresy. attitude coercionwas a blatant to For a Donatist.itis insidethatthewill is born'.by thelaws of the Christian Emperors. that had made reaching humanmind. . . external Augustinehad become convincedthatmen needed such firm handling.theypossessa truth independent their of Yet Christian effectiveness.And that brings to a rather different objectionto Geertz'sformulation. The persecution theDonatistswas of tendencies a whole seriesof divinely-ordained by on 'controlled another catastrophe' imposedby God. A modernbelievermightsay thatthisis not theiressence. thisoccasion. a policy which forcedthis choice was plainly The Donatistwriters the irreligious.against will. becausereligious symbolsevenin failing producemoods and motivations to are stillreligious symbols:in other words. individual ofchoicemustbe spontaneous.For himit was an a active process of corrective essentially punishment.Here it is not merereligioussymbolsthatimplanttrue but laws (imperial and Christian dispositions. preservation a 'Roman way of life'. 'softening-up process'. suffering. thisactof act but choicecould be prepared a longprocess. mediated. terrors thattimehad beenstrictly of for the canesto necessary.byGod. checkingand punishingtheirevil disasters. theywerepartoftheawesome discipline God. froma believer'spointofview.He summed up his He of in not attitude one word: disciplina. by and of thelong. What are the conditionsin which religioussymbols can How does (religious)power create actuallyproduce religiousdispositions? (religious)truth? is The relationbetweenpower and truth an ancienttheme. his to Augustine'sview of the Fall of mankinddetermined attitude society. by by inclinations disastrous (Brown I967: 236-8).constraint. He said he thisintellectual activity possible. Geertz observes. and 'teaching'.God had taughtHis wayward inconveniences'-a per molestias Chosen People throughjust such a process of disciplina. 'from schoolmasters' fromtheir own theagoniesof themartyrs'. the Old Testament.Augustine's denialofChristian teaching: God had made men freeto choose good or evil. is the of of ClearlyGeertz'sformula too simpleto accommodate force thismotif religioussymbolism. witha healthy of 'straight-jacket' unremitting Augustine respect of of fortheachievements humanreason. which might even include fear. 'Let be inconveniences: constraint foundoutside. power-ranging all theway from . quotedthesame passagesfrom Bible in favour free of will. In his reply.
Augof network motivated of ustinewas quite clearthatpower.thenthe empiricaldifferentia religiousactivity religious or experiencewould not exist' (I973: 98).and therefore symbols involved are different.and drawnintothenarrative of ofsacredtruth. good repute.theologyspeaks. the symbolicprocessby whichtheconcepts religious of motivation activity and are is placed within'a cosmic framework' surelyquite a different operation. Geertz's reason for mergingthe two kinds of discursiveprocess seems to in springfroma desire to distinguish generalbetween religiousand secular The statement above is elaboratedas follows: 'For what dispositions. salvation. church. and one consequence distinctions obscured. etc. conversely.except a like vitality mana and notfrom visitto theGrandCanyon?Or thata particular case of asceticismis an example of a religiousmotivation. havingreligious dispositions of does notnecessarily dependon a clear-cut conception thecosmicframework is actor. theeffect an entire practices. It was not the mind thatmoved but power thatimposed the conditionsfor to spontaneously religioustruth. . among other Christians will concede that.varied in profoundly Christendomfromone epoch to another-from Augustine's Westof today-but the time. by Geertzgivesreligious symbolsa greatdeal ofworkto do. theological the Put discourseis not identicalwith liturgical utterances-of which. 'That thesymbolsor symbolsystems even explicitly we define dispositions set offas religiousand thosewhichplace thosedisposiare the same symbols ought to occasion no tions in a cosmic framework Let us grant thatreligious surprise' (I973: 98). anotherway. The configurations powerin thissensehave. school. to theindustrial capitalist of the for the patterns religiousmood and motivation.) prayer.). activities ofsocialinstitutions peace. Even so. knowledgeand truth.praised.although things. theologicaldiscoursedoes not necessarily and inducereligious dispositions.city.or are of theway in whichhe does thisis thatimportant whichinduceand denied.tothedisciplinary (family. 11 and discourses practices wereto be systemthat experiencing truth. for of human eventsare the instruments God. andofhuman etc. penance. possibilities religious have all variedwiththemand beenconditioned them. bodies(fasting.). The argumentis that a particular dispositionis religiousonly because it occupies a conceptualplace withina . assumesa religious form becauseoftheend to whichitis directed. Particular denounced-made as much as possibleunthinkaticallyexcluded.12 Thoughtful theologyhas an essentialfunction.allowed.Discourseinvolvedin practice notthesame as on thepartof a religious thatinvolvedin speakingaboutpractice. obedience.except thatit is directed towardtheachievement an unconditioned likenirvana of end and nota If conditioned likeweight-reduction?sacredsymbolsdid notat one and the one .through Middle Ages.ofcourse. able.TALAL ASAD 243 ecclesiastical)and other sanctions (hellfire. others wereto be included. same time induce dispositionsin human beings and formulate .forbidden. But it does surprise! dispositions on arecrucially dependent certain religious symbols.etc. general of ideas of order. that. quoted mood of awe is religiousand not else do we mean by sayingthata particular a thatit springsfromentertaining conceptionof all-pervading secular.thatsuchsymbolsoperate in a way integral religiousmotivation to and religiousactivity. death.
It was in theseventeenth of century.Cromwell.and not the were the finaltest. a singleauthentic who established principle was theearlyChristian Fathers the thatonlya single 19 Churchcould become thesourceofauthenticating discourse.and deedsto a priestly confessor. exceptions. distinctions the and of authoritative discourses. gradations.21 Severaltimesbeforethe convictionsof the practitioner.13 authenticating particular miracles and relics(the eachother). systematically religiousspaces. thecontrary. letting would stillbe needed to 'belief'.20 The medievalChurch was always clearabout why therewas a continuous fromfalsehood. theydid so. later rise withthetriumphant of modernscience.both authorising shrines.14 two confirmed saints'lives. Churches as 'thereligious'from'thesecular'. graduallyabandon religiousspace. fromsuch men as Baxter. to how theauthorising processrepresents practice. words.shifting.the subversionof roleofinstitutional Truth-which underlines creative the power.Social truth disciplinewould. teachings practices theChurch.orJeremy differs with Taylor mainlyin that. 'faith'and 'conscience'takeits place. In the Middle Ages such discourses and rangedoveran enormousspace. They knewthat the 'symbols' embodied in the practiceof self-confessed Christiansare not of withthetheory the'one trueChurch'. theweightofreligious of more and more onto the moods and motivations thebeliever. the betweenthereligious and thesecularwas re-drawn. the utterance or dispositionso thatit can be discursively relatedto generalideas of order-in short the question regardingthe authorising process by which religionis created.modernproduction and centuries.15 compiling as a model of and as a model forthe Truth.not content the of he reducing creedto theminimum possiblenumber fundamentals. But thisraisesthe vital question. thatthe earliestsystematic at attempts of was Herproducinga universaldefinition religionwere made. (for etc. the Franciscans). followingthefragmentation theunity of and authority the Roman Church. Willey. givingabsolution to a penitent. tensionbetween them-sometimes breakinginto heresy. goes behindChristianity a and to whichshallcommandtheuniversal assent all menas men.). well as thesacredfromthe as truereligion need to distinguish for which the secular (religion from what was not religion).thatreligion alwaysidentical required both authorised and thatthereis always a practiceand authorising doctrine. Reformation boundary of In but always theformalauthority theChurchremained pre-eminent.which Geertznowhere as considers. did not attempt establish its was alwaysconcerned specify to authoritative discourse differences.have been of profound importance in the historyof Westernsociety. But theory define religion.defining creating religion: rejecting 'pagan' practices accepting or them.It of itself.16 requiring regulartellingof the sinful and thoughts.thebeguines. in this period.244 TALAL ASAD cosmic framework.Indeed theways in whichauthorising discourses. writes bert'sDe veritate. What it sought was the subjectionof all practiceto a unified to sourcewhichcould telltruth fromfalsehood. denouncingthemforheresyor for on verging theheretical example.18 The medieval Church of on to absoluteuniformity practice. Significant 'Lord Herbert'.17 regularising popular social movementsinto Rule-following or Orders (forexample. based on a cosmolredefined ogy. tries formulate belief . the would also be clearabouttheneedto distinguish themodernstate.It authority.
was a pioneer-interest thesereligions.for of reducingtheirpracticesto texts.The unevangelised seen typically for determining are as in either thosewho havepractices affirm but can nothing. thefirst condition something'. together of scholars withthemythologies classicalantiquity. writes. in fact view whichhas a Frombeinga concrete ofrulesattached specific set to Christian specific history.European missionaries Asia. about the fundamental nature of realitymay be obscure.23 thismovementwe have not merely increase 'religious a but of not toleration'.but withoutregardto the on discursive 'What any particular processesby whichmeaningsare constructed. as thosewho or do affirm something. and the authorising processes which give those eventsreligiousmeaning. preachingfriarsin medieval urban centres. certainly merely new 'scientific discovery'.In the one case religioustheorybecomes be necessaryfor a correctreadingof the mute ritualhieroglyphs others. be taking thestandpoint theology. and processesof power and knowledge.and in manywriters the one of to century can see thatthereligwns theEast.ifitis notto consist shallow.TALAL ASAD 245 in itself the as thattheold simplesituation. whichChristendom mustbe remembered pictured outsideand thesemi-toleratedJews within gates.24 he also appears. dispositions). howeverimperfectly known.This is apparently simpleenoughrequirement. all too often. whichcasemeaning be attributed their to practices (thusmakingthemvulnerable).22Thus whatappearsto this punishments a anthropologists today to be self-evident. And so Herbert produceda substantive definition whatlatercameto be called of NaturalReligion-in termsof beliefs(about a 'supremepower').werebeginning in with It pressupon theEuropeanconsciousness.or. It appearsthatto and conventional achievewhatis truly 'receivedpractices religion.as he eirenicon seventeenth-century for hoped. perverse'. thusto provide.To understand mutation is essential keep clearlydistinct to what theologytendsto obscure:theoccurrenceof events(utterances.withonlythefoulpaynim of away forever. of thecustomary preoccupation Renaissance for and to whichled Lord Herbert seeka commondenominator all religions. practices. it field evangelism openedup: earlyChristians the of butthrough theentire is in late Roman empire.in the otherit is essentialforjudging their .This to up of is done by insisting the primacyof meaning. what is trulyreligion. and ethics (a code of conduct based on 'rewards and after life')-said to existinall societies.shallow or perverse'(an affirmation which can therefore confuted). Explorationand commercehad widenedthehorizon. of the mere collectionof receivedpracticesand conventional sentiments we to affirm usuallyrefer as moralism. Africa LatinAmerica. themuch-needed disputes(I934: I I4). namelythat'religion'is essentially in or linkedto ideas of generalorder(expressed either both matter meanings of is a and it riteand doctrine) that has universal functions.and embody thatmeaning institutions. themutation a conceptand a rangeof social practices whichis itself partof a widerchangein this it themodernlandscapeofpowerand knowledge.'religion'has come to be abstracted In an in universalised. probably'obscure. sentiments' mustbejoined to discourses whichaffirm whichgivethesepractices something. a some cosmologicalmeaning.inadvertently.had passed the world. religion affirms he 'butit must. practices (its ordered 'worship'). in concrete Not onlydoes Geertzequate two levelsof discourse(symbolswhichinduce and in dispositions thosewhichplacethosedispositions a cosmicframework).The demandthat practice in and a must 'affirm it a is that shouldbe able to state meaning. something' (I973: 98-9).
affirming of the justifiable. It follows thathuman to Geertz. in simplythat some senseor other worldas a wholeis explicable. irrationalities characteristic are of that these denying planewhilesimultaneously a theworld as a whole. withtheHuman Condition(to theannoyance 'adult' mode of comingto terms of the modern Christian). on of pain.As modernindustrial societyas thesiteforproducingdisciplined each of its intergrading aspects . This modestview ofreligion(whichwould have horrified early is Church Fathersor medievalchurchmen)27 a productof Geertz'srecurrent desire to definereligionin universalterms:the Human Condition is fullof ignorance. written by background to theory reachinto.and religioussymbolsare a means of coming positivelyto termswith thatCondition. It is thefunction religious in and moral):'The Problem Meaning of physical thesethree points(intellectual. threats orderat to of symbolsto meetperceived ioo).says thatneed. inescapability ignorance.and to bringout.In eithercase. his the Notice how Geertzseemsnow to have shifted groundfrom claimthat something specificabout the natureof reality(however religionmustaffirm is that to religion ultimately obscure. heard utterances. the How and practices? utterances of or prohibition. The connexion between means of identifying of a is and theory practice fundamentallymatter power-of disciplines religious and utterances certain forbidding true religion.thatboth theaffirmation thedenialare made' (1973: io8. meaning.shallowor perverse). But let us followGeertz'sargument: in as Because all withpractice orderforitto qualify religion? mustbe identified human beings have a profoundneed for a generalorder of existence. that function religious of Geertzis thus rightto make a connexionbetween giving them meaning. is a matter of affirming. always. One consequenceis thatthis view such a function render would in principle every'philosophy'whichperforms Rationalist). religioustheory religionfroma neutralplace. and it is the the observedpractices. a but wrong to see it as essentially and practice. the authentication truthful does power createreligion? of whatkindsof affirmation. the suggestionthat religionhas a is universalfunction one indicationof how marginalreligionhas become in knowledge.or into religion (to the annoyance of the nineteenth-century a of make it possibleto think religionas a more 'primitive'. less alternatively. theblandsuggestion of to a matter havinga positiveattitude theproblemof disorder. and injustice thehuman the recognizing. emphasis added). .246 TALAL ASAD that mustbe something existsbeyond But cosmologicalutterances.interpreting meanings. . or at least . And it is in termsof religioussymbolism. the 26 bearable.25 as cognitive. creating others.'There are at least threepoints where but of chaos-a tumult eventswhichlacknotjust interpretations interpretability at capacities.religioussymbolsfunction fulfil beings have a deep dread of disorder.Hence thequestionsthatGeertzdoes not ask: and authorising practices What are the historical how does religiousdiscourseactuallydefinereligion? or as in conditions whichit can act effectively a demandfortheimitation.there the the words. the -threatens to breakin upon man: at thelimitsof his analytic and at thelimitsof his moralinsight'(I973: limitsof his powers of endurance. symbolism within whichitis conceived of to man'ssphere existence a widersphere relating and to rest.pain and injustice.
of thedetailof clerical liberties.and whichtransforms experience: authority' moralparadox-of theProblemof Meaning-is one of thethingsthatdrives totemicprinciples. canonlaw and of Churchcourts. we aretold. otherwords. butitis notthebasisupon whichthosebeliefs fieldof application'(I973: i09). logicalgrounds well as historical. of efficacy cannibalism.whicharea partofthat world. of beliefchangethatbelief.but ofreality.or in an a-religious 'knowledge'is rootedeither an a-Christian apologisttendsnotto accept'belief'as theconclusionto a science.it does not dependon their pain whichmakesit possibleto respondadequatelyto on an authoritative principle thatreligious belief standsindependently of them. expressingat once the anguish of the oppressed and the cynicismof the oppressor. . pain.on the elusive questionof religious conceptionsof a general meaning:not only do religioussymbolsformulate withan auraoffactuality.theChristian but However. whom 'knowledge' and 'belief' learnedChristians the twelfth at Christian 'belief'would thenhave werenotso clearly odds. bodies. pain and injustice same now as it was then.TALAL ASAD 247 with the conceptionMarx had of religionas such it is actually consistent whichis other thanconsciousness ideology-that is. promiseswill not pass (nor does he claim thatit will pass) forknowledgeof nor scienceprovides. theknowledgethathe knowledge-process as its pre-condition.not to a corpus of knowledge. forthesystematic stateof mind. rest. devils. bafflement.He seems thatbelief primarily way ofcomingto terms although of in to be arguing. fession.of thelocationsand virtues shrines. theyalso clothethoseconceptions has This. the is universe. however. privatised as of the emphasises priority belief a stateof mind:'The basicaxiom underlying call is the whatwe mayperhaps "thereligious perspective" everywhere same:he believe' (I973: i io).28 of whichlies at thecoreofhis conception Geertz'streatment religious belief. say. Geertzhas much more to say.is 'theproblemofbelief'. as a mode ofconsciousness no of external therelations production. Religious belief of 'The existence bafflement. a modern. the spiritual or men towardbeliefin gods. Here Geertz theirmost important but rather in belief itsorigin theexistence has of seemsto be sayingthatalthough religious but existence.a problemwhichanthropology always involves 'the prioracceptanceof fortoo long avoided. beenbuilton knowledge-knowledge oftheological of doctrine. of and and thespecific forms bafflement moralparadox. is a withthem. orderofexistence. and moral paradox. In modernsociety. . theRules of religious . one is Christian becauseand to theextent that it ofreligion.pious of for century. .His knowledgeofobjectsthat sociallife. pain. not whathe believed8oo yearsago-nor is theway he respondsto the ignorance. life afterdeath.Thus he seemsto be arguing the worldlyconditionswhich produce bafflement. properties). to producing knowledge. But the claim is to a particular of reversal beliefand knowledgehe demandsis not a basic axiom to.that'belief'is independent itsobject-and this as Changesin theobject is surely on mistaken. spirits. and as theworldchangesso do theobjectsofbelief. On thecontrary. thepowers of ecclesiastical and of of office (over souls. What the Christianbelieves today about God. thepre-conditions effects conof of orders. and moralparadox.where who would know must first in everyday life.
31 However. defining but of in faith them'. a because 'instead of effecting disengagement from the whole question of an factuality. It would not be difficult to disagreewithhim over his characterisations theseperspectives30 and also of with the apparentassumptionthatessentially our 'perspectives' must be the timesandplaces. techniques.From the aesthetic perspective.permeateand createthe veryfibresof social lifein no ways thatreligion longerdoes. shallsee in a momentthe difficulties Geertz'sperspectivism that getshim into. to Geertzhas tried summarise whathe thinks commonsense.and aestheticsare about in contemporary society. in terms what of it takes to be wider. the two are by no means inconsistent. From the common-sense perspective.themostimportant same as thoseofother pointto be made hereis thattheoptionalflavour conveyedin theterm'perspective' is whenit is appliedequallyto scienceand to religion modern verymisleading in society:religionis optionalin a way thatscienceis not.and belief(embodiedin practice for and discourse)an orientation effective for activity it-whether on thepartof the in religiousclergy.32In thatsensereligion todayis a perspective as (or an 'attitude'.etc. the Geertz specifies'the religious perspective'as merelyone among others -common-sense. about the functions religioussymof Consistentwith previousarguments that'it is in ritual-thatis. but before thatwe need to examinehis analysis themechanics reality-maintenance of of at workin religion. it deepenstheconcern withfact seeksto create auraofutter and an actuality' (I973: I I2). scientific. In thatsense. Familiarity withall such (religious)knowledge was a pre-condition normalsocial life. first sight one-but as Vygotsky33 tionistpsychologywith a behaviourist arguedlong in ago. aesthetic-and as differing fromthemas follows.Fromthescientific perspective. nonhypothetical truths'. givingextendedexamplesfromHindu . too.science. thisspirit. because 'it moves beyond the realities of everyday to widerones whichcorrect completethem. deliberately manufacturing air of semblance and illusion.248 TALAL ASAD of the lives of the saints. Geertzsometimescalls it) but scienceis not.Because of thisthe formand texture and function their of 'beliefs'would have been different fromtheform and texture function contemporary and of 'belief'29 -and so too oftheir doubts and theirdisbelief. scienceis notto be foundin everysociety We pastand present.and [because]its life and is concern notactionupon thosewiderrealities acceptance them. consecrated bols is Geertz'sremark behaviour-that thatreligiousconceptions veridical are and thatreligiousdirecthisconviction tivesaresoundis somehowgenerated' (I973: I I2). The entire longpassagefrom betweenarbitrary whichthisis takenswingsback and forth about speculations of and assertions what goes on in theimagination officiants.The main pointis that'the basic axiom' underlying what Geertzcalls 'thereligious is perspective' not everywhere same. so far as both assume that in psychologicalphenomenaconsistessentially the consequencesof various In Geertzstresses central environments. the stimulating importance of ritualto the 'religiousperspective'.the secularclergyor the laity.knowledges. because'itquestions realities the of everydaylife not out of an institutionalized scepticismwhich dissolves the world's givenness intoa swirlofprobabilistic but hypotheses. Scientific practices. generalised about thisseemsa curiouscombination introspecas At of ritual imprinting.
politicsand so on. Ifreligion a and has distinctive which does not in essence compete with others. and to distinguish the religiousperspective according from of clearly non-religious ones. thisthepointofview ofa reasonably confident agent(who the mustalwaysoperatewithin denseness historically of givenprobabilities). It would appearthattheseparation religion fromscience. Indeed.'In theseplasticdramasmen attaintheir it is it'. The function ritualsin generating 'religiousconviction'is faith theyportray as postulated(thus. to on a explain 'faith' must be primarily matterof describinga dependence and not of intuiting mentalstatelying a and discourses.for.which 'seem' Is uniquelyrealistic. Towards the end of his essay.And it is neverclearbecauseGeertznever examines whether.symbolicformscan servemultiple purposes' (I973: II3). or thatof a sceptical observer(who can 'see through' representations reality the of to thereality It itself)? is neverclear. even political. But what is it thatensuresthe participant's takingthe if symbolicformsin theway thatleads to faith theline betweenreligiousand and the is non-religious perspectives notso easyto draw?Presumably ability the will to adopt a religiousstandpoint mustbe therepriorto theritualperformworkswill notdo. Geertzattempts connect. institutional of ledge and practice. I973: I I4). forthe anthropologist to 'attaining faith'are markedout. the line or not so easy betweenthosethatare. thenritualcannotbe theplace where'religiousfaith'is but whereit is (literally) attained.withinwhich selves are formed. authoritative practices beyondthemsaid to be causedby ritual. ratherthan a conditionof social life (facilitating some objectivesand makingothers difficult). buthoworwhythis happens nowhere explained. is 'Of state notalwaysachievedin religious is ritual: concededthatsucha religious are and course.'illogicality' thelike.once registered.we mustexaminenotonlytheritual itself. the of forms knowof entire rangeof availabledisciplinary activities.drawingon Schutz. religious 'experience'relatesto somethingin the social world believerslive in. if we are to but understand how thishappens. of the precondition religiousexperience for (which. Geertzstatesthatthe everyday world of common-sense objects and practical acts is common to all human beings because theirsurvivaldependson it: 'A man.and perspective.and the possibilities In otherwords.so thata simplestimulus-response And ifthatis thecase.and if so to what extentand in what ways. it performs function always both necessary 'falseconsciousness'. and artistic.TALAL ASAD 249 of India and Bali. ina way thisdefence cannotbe accusedofgenerating Yet is he equivocal.ones is often to draw in practice.insteadof merely to the separating. First. This omission is relatedto his treatment religioussymbols as sui generis. enables him to it defend againstchargesof 'illusion'. religious perspective thecommon-sense and one-and theresult revealsan ambiguity basic to his entireapproach. a which furthermore and unique. observes. mustby definition be 'genuine'). aesthetics. religiously . playedoutand confirmed. modelofhow ritual ance. common sense. to We havenotedmorethanonce Geertz'sconcern identify religious symbols to universalcriteria. may be aesthetically insensitive. Religious symbols createdispositions. Again. even large groups of men.like social forms. all cultural performances not religiousperformances.
experience thereligious of sense world.he . . thelatter. Ifreligioussymbols on are understood.and also the substantive knowledgeof a sociallyconstructed the but availableto bothagentand observer. emphasis added). Finally. and. theanalogywithwords. And as he is changed.thatonly 'Kierkegaardian he leaps' (I973: I20) can cover the culturalgaps that separatethem. and so thedistinctiveness thetwo kindsof world is modified. and the common-sense from Geertz'sadherence differs from The one culture another. also is thecommon-sense so world.can such .This last point is consistent with affected experience thecommon-sense by -changed. but Geertz'sentire approach.a manis-unless. But it would appear fromthe account that the religious world is independent. he cannot but informs that us individuals move 'back and forth betweenthereligious perspectiveand thecommon-sense perspective' (I973: I19).34 paradoxresults in to a confusedphenomenology which 'reality'is at once the distanceof an fromthe Truth. unequippedto pursueformal scientific analysis.250 TALAL ASAD and unconcerned. analysis thesystem meanings ied in thesymbolswhichmakeup thereligion proper. Most of what Geertzhas said at the are of beginning hisessaywould implythatthey independent I973: 92). as vehiclesformeaning. between which the individual of moves.therelating and of thesesystemsto social-structural psychological processes'(I973: I25).whichin turn of worldaffects commonthe from but differs another. to thelatter onlythrough former. it surely. into the framework of meaning which religious fromthisparadoxwhichwill helpus evaluate Perhapswe can learnsomething conclusion:'The anthropological Geertz'sconfident studyof religionis therean of of embodforea two-stageoperation: first. declares. in the the presentcontextit presents readerwith a paradox: the world of common fromthe sense is always common to all human beings.Yet it is also suggestedthatas thebelieverchangeshis this perspectiveso he himselfchanges. It is not clear.measurableonly by the privileged agent's social perspective world observer. as sometimes happens. and quite 'distinct as differs from one groupto another. is. and that as he changes so too is his So common-sense world changedand corrected. one culture religious world. Geertz concludes that and theritualended. whetherthe religious frameworkand the common-senseworld. be completely lacking common in senseand survive' (I973: II9). and (cf.is not at independentof his moves. These perspectives so are utterly different. since it is the source of experiencefor the a and through thatexperience. as world comes to differ. This curiousaccountofshifting perspectives changand ing worlds is puzzling. sourceof changein thecommon-sense believer.theexperience as but thepartial form a widerreality of whichcorrects completes (I973: and it' I22. second.forit is now seen 'Having ritually "lept" .yethow mistaken.in whichreligioussymbolsare suigeneris. again to thecommon-sense failsto register world. are independent him or not. Next. for example. fromone group to another. his remarkabout common sense being vital to every man's survival also reinforces reading. any rate. How sensiblethissounds.returned conceptions define. thatthereligious world(or perspective) ever is is world: there no suggestion anywhere in world.
Studies of the social functions of reductionist tendto be either at religion ways ofarriving itsmeanings. onlythattheir possibility statusare to be explainedas productsof historically and theirauthoritative The anthropological and student religion distinctive of should disciplines forces. in particular and generalways. althoughbrought about by religious institutions. is in thesocial world but thespiritual.It is partof themovement anthropology in whichhas forsome yearsnow been concerned takethesignifying to systems of othercultures more seriously thanwas thecase before-and also to employa . My ticulationof I is linked argument. I would suggest. Religion itselfis rarelyapproachedin termsof 'technicalaction'-that is to say.35 it possibleto assertthatconditions the to kindofexperience accessible? social worldhave nothing do withmakingthat vacuous? Is theconceptof religious training entirely The two stageswhichGeertzproposesare. it signifies. of speech. can we say much about that experiencewithout consideringhow it comes to be formed?Even if it be claimedthatwhat is experienced through religioussymbolsis not.37 religionin its for variety.and are therefore themselves on and dependent a rangeof socialinstitutions material conditions.TALAL ASAD 251 of meaningsbe established independently the formof lifein which theyare of used?Ifreligious symbolsareto be takenas theelements a sacredtext. may also be securedby 'secular'ones. this a therefore beginfrom point.as Geertz does.in essence.36 In has itself and religion usuallybeen conceivedofas expressive.whether directly indirectly. guidingactionor of expressing of independently theirrelationswith non-religious 'symbols' or of theirarsocial life in which work and power are always crucial. field whichreligious representations acquire of From this it does not follow that the meanings religious practicesand but are utterances to be soughtin social phenomena. from notionofculture of as an a priori totality meanings.divorcedfromprocessesof formation and effects power.hovering of above social reality. Religious or 'symbols'-whether one thinksof them in termsof communication of emotion-cannot be understood of cognition. (more or usefully)ways of describingsocial consequences which. so faras bothareprimarily concerned enquireintostatements to abouttheworldwhich believer thereligious or in allegedly makes. Geertz'stexthas thegreatvirtue stating of withsubtlety distinctive a position on a difficult conceptualproblem. but they must be taught and learnt. For fartoo long the well-knownbut increasingly unsatisfactory distinction betweentechnical instrumental) actionand expressive symbolic)action (or (or has determined majororientation anthropological of the of studies religion. or thattheyusuallysupportdominant to social life (and are to power (and occasionally oppose it). themainconcern has been to discover what. notjust thatreligious symbolsareintimately so change with it). whether practicesor in exegeses of those practices. the which is used to produce of disciplining the body.can we know what theymean withoutregardto thesocial disciplines which their by correctreadingis secured?If religioussymbols are to be thoughtof as the patternsby which experienceis organised. Itis thatsocialdisciplines intrinsic the force their and in their truthfulness. This and in appliesequallyto theso-calledIntellectualist Symbolist writers.andnot. muststress.one.Such disciplinesare preconditions specificformsof thoughtand action.
wherehe has attempted two 'classical'stylesof Islam. produceand authorise knowledges.38What requiressystematic therefore the ways in are investigation socialdisciplines the which.classes.Insteadof approaching religion ing of doctrinesand practices. thatdialogic point is the conceptof meaningin religionand culture'(1977: 371).Its strength important questions-having to do withcognition and communication. to ways in whichselvesare required respondto thoseknowledges. us begin by askingwhat are the historical (movements. Collingwood (I938: book 2) for discussion theintegral emotion.or even about the psychologicaleffects of let conditions symbolsand rituals. contemporary 3 The Russianpsychologist in distinctions thedevelopanalytical (I962) makescrucial Vygotsky and trueconcepts. TerryJohnson Sami Zubaida fortheir I am grateful 1 For example.in eachsociety.In each case a contrasts abouttheparallelisms between historical figure providestheoccasionforgeneralising representative a an is a personality type. then there is a beginningpoint for dialogue . thisis difficult do in terms theoriginal describe commentators on and is framework.39 historical NOTES comments. earlier stagespersist a of connexion betweenthought and 4 Cf.In the laterchapters attempt made to of but to semantic morerecent changesand conflicts. complexes.But an overallweaknessof Geertz's of position seems to be the hiatus it accepts between (external)symbols and whichparallels hiatusbetween'cultural the (internal) dispositions. where it is argued that there is no such thing as a universalemotional function cognitive/communicative every accompanyingall conceptualisation/communication: distinctive emotionalcast. institutions. Through my explorationof his text I have come to the a conclusionthatperhapsthefruitful responseto thiswould be not to attempt bridge between the two. to make particularreligious discourses. Islam in 2 Geertz sucha description hiselegantly-written observed (I968). system'and 'social reality'. formof culture. but to move entirelyaway from that notorious withquestionsabout thesocial meandualism. ideologies) necessaryfor the existenceof In and particular religious practices discourses.letus ask:how does To ask thisquestionis to seek an answerin terms the of power createreligion? and social forceswhichcome together particular at historical social disciplines moments. If thisview is valid. so resort had in an ad hocmannerto well-knownorientalist Islam. practices and spaces possible.a styleof faith. Although. 'religious of and thusthestructure cognition.the accordingto Vygotsky. pseudo-concepts of use theserepresent stagesin thedevelopment children's oflanguage. practice itsrepresentation-not treated together in anthropological discussions religion. critical and toJohnDixon. of because and to the extentthattheyaim at religionhindersuch investigations essences when we should be tryingto explore concretesets of identifying and relations processes. other words.252 TALAL ASAD more complex model of the workingsof language in the analysisof those lies in its attemptto bring togethera wide range of cultures.theways in Universaldefinitions which knowledgesare accumulatedand distributed.Morgan: 'If Tillichhas defined culture terms in agreeableto good anthropology of in thoughnot substantially by (of thekinddemonstrated Geertz)and ifhis definition religion. intoadultlife. thatsymbolsorganise 5 The argument . . ment of conceptualthought:heaps.is not antipathetic anthropologicalmethod. . authand and often ority disposition. theone Moroccan and theotherIndonesian. thenthenotionof a generalised activity its own specific has emotion'(or 'mood') maybe questioned. central is to practice. to anthropologicalterminology.
and in specific.othernaturalor medicinal had accompanied the miracle. .Althoughtheyattempted definemiracleby were not entirely appeals to universalnaturallaw. original speech. whether witness the knew thesubjectbefore well as after miracle.theyhave fortheir of fromone generation anothersentiments which the constitution to on maintainand transmit byLienhardt (I96I). and its progressivemarginalisation Europe at least) to those sectorsof the populationnot directly (in work process.we may well-knownpreoccupation 8 If we set aside Radcliffe-Brown's said to be inducedby certain kindsofpsychological states recallthathe too was concerned specify to of sentiments religioussymbols:'Ritescan be seen to be theregulated symbolicexpressions certain in be of to Ritescantherefore shown the [whichcontrol behaviour theindividual hisrelation others].then. as the society depends' (1952: 157).withtheaid ofwhichChristian discipline to was imposed on WesternEurope fromroughlythe fifth the tenthcenturies. 2). 540-604) 'urgedthattheChurchshouldtakeover old pagan templesand festivals and of give thema Christianmeaning' (Chadwick I967: 254).how thewitness used by thosewho prayedforthe miracle. When papal about Thomas Cantilupe's miraclesat London and commissioners down to hear testimony sa.) At thesame timePope Gregory 1933: 456).as opposed to one concerned of withtherepresentation of meanings. 12 A modern theologian puts it: 'The difference between the professing. recently has been revivedby Sperber(1975). proclaimingand orientating way of speakingon the one hand. offenses condemned'(quotedin McNeill detailssee McNeill and Gamer 1938. forexample. the witness was expected to say preparationsor incantations of abouttheage and social situation thepersonexperiencing miracle.while on the other theologians(possibly also these same to bishops) triedto come to termswith the matter. in are food or drink theseplacessacredto thefolk-deities. 'The takingof vows or fromthemby springs treesor lattices.is an illustration theargument of thatifwe arelookingfor involvedin theindustrial in in the causal explanations thisarea. 1l This was whyAugustine came roundto theview thatinsincere conversion was not eventually a problem(Chadwick I967: 222-4). (For further the GreatA. Vygotsky's genetic psychology-see especially 'Tool and symbolin childdevelopment' Vygotsin ky (1978). common sense was a betterguide than medieval cosmology. to social function to have a specific when. by of in 14 'On theone hand. is can so corrupted thatreality-for-the-believer no longer"appear" to himas it appearsin professing 13 The series booklets of knownas Penitential manuals.and also to concealtheir (1971: 24). with social cohesion. theinteresting ch. individual cases. forexample. note how unwiseis theuse of 'symbol'whichconflates variety quitedistinct a of problems. I hope.whether any herbs.and to theextent that. such definitions successful. the to They will also.is sometimes formulated the difference as between"speakingabout" and "speakingto".thensocio-economicconditions generalare clearly indepenSee discussionin Luckman(I967: dentvariableand formal worshipthedependent. whatwordswere theywantedto know. 10 The phenomenon of declining church attendancein modern industrialsociety. speech' (Luijpen 1973: 90-I).TALAL ASAD 253 6 'The historyof the process of the internalization socialspeech of is also the historyof the socialization children's of practical intellect' (Vygotsky 1978: 27): See also Luria& Yudovich (I959).D. and bishopscomplained crudeand too-avidbeliefs unauthorized unexaminedwonders and miracles. The apparentinconsistency thesetwo of is attitudes or thanthesystematic (rejection incorporation paganpractices) lessimportant exercise is of Churchauthority whichmeaning assigned. 7 Readersfamiliar withAustin(I962) will recognise connexions whichI hererefer. and descriptive speechon the other. effect regulate.so itis said. A cognitive conception symbols. As soon as thesetwo the and unique character religious of ways of speakingare confused. the wherehe came something fromand of whatfamily. containmuch So materialon pagan practicespenalisedas un-Christian.stones. in of Hereford 1307 'hey had in front thema scheduleof things ask aboutsuchwondrousevents: to came to learnofthemiracle. or and partaking of releasing anywhere exceptin a church. A similar view was takenmuchearlier 9 Some ways in which'symbolisation' lack is well (discourse)candisguise ofdistinctiveness brought Christianwriters. where he argues that out in Maclntyre'strenchant critiqueof contemporary theirbe'Christiansbehave like everyoneelse but use a different vocabularyin characterising lack ofdistinctiveness' haviour.
together for confession shouldbe mandatory The LateranCouncil of 1215 decreedthatannualprivate of of the separately all Christians: sex 'Everyfidelis either shallafter attainment yearsof discretion to at to his confess sinswithall fidelity hisown priest leastonce in theyear:and shallendeavour fulfil the of reverently receiving sacrament the thepenanceimposedupon him to thebestof his ability. hope ofour calling.In all that thiscontextit is interesting theword 'heresy'at first including designated kindsof errors. in in theconstruction It thisdiscipline. Yet it was througha studiously from city-St Peter's. Southern I970: Chs.thatspecificsins were createdas experience-not merelyin the confessional. monasticdiscipline . theverycontemplaor everyday in entertained everydaylife. anyassumea veil of excuse in the blindnessof ignorance'(quoted in Watkins1920: 748-9). we to we This unity oughtfirmly hold and defend.254 TALAL ASAD the the what illnesswas involved.sermonliterature. shrines turn servedto confirm ecclesiastical authority: 'The bishopsof in the powerwithin Western Europe came to orchestrate cultofthesaints sucha way as to base their the old Roman citieson thesenew "towns outside the town". and it acquired its specific errors'unconsciously'involved in some activity(simoniaca haeresis).on the the withgreatshrines thatlayat some distance articulated relationship beyondthewalls of Tours-that thebishopsof VaticanHill outsideRome.decretals.a little in theformer citiesoftheRoman Empireroseto prominence earlymedievalEurope' (Brown 1981: 8).one Spirit. in century. (See Lea I 896. 21 was theprincipal basis of religiosity.month. 6 & 7. knowledgeof a Christian on writings-all fed treatises canon law.) of to to reaction ecclesiastical authorities theFranciscans 18 For a brief introduction thevarying see and thebeguines. denounced and in flourished thetownsofwestern Germany theLow Countries. mystical councils. and when dead let himlack Christian the him duringlifebe repelledfromentering church. God".Manuals forthe guidanceof priestand penitent. theMiddle Ages types ofdistinctive ofspirituality. the to for The Churchalwaysexercised authority readChristianpractice itsReligiousTruth. be in statute frequently lest Wherefore thissalutary let published thechurches. They and werecriticised.when he says. Knowles In theearlyMiddle Ages. 'Beguines'was thenamegivento groupsofcelibate women dedicatedto the religiouslifebut not owing obedienceto ecclesiastical authority. the of blessed Apostle Paul has the same teaching. SaintMartin's. Manuals of particular and its consequenceswith astonishing the confession multiplied categoriesof sin. no one deceivethebrethren one thatwe mayprovetheepiscopate of let the by transgression' (quotedinBettenson by falsehood. whichthepower process. 16 The life of St Antonyby Athanasius was the model for medieval hagiographies.one faith. one one one one "There is one body.day. especially who presidein theChurchas bishops Let also to be itself and undivided.crisisand conversion.how manydays he had seen theill personbefore cure.is he confident he is intheChurch? the and setsforth sacrament unity. finally suppressed theearlyfifteenth 19 Thus Cyprian:'Ifa mandoes nothold thisunity theChurch. in in life-in actscommitted omitted. but also the systematic ordinances of society.whether were also asked in cure was completeand how long it took forcompletion. of of the Church produced not only the self-knowledge the subject. Thus out of the avoidance or the absolutionof tions of possibility a life sins was constructed large part of the spiritual available to laymen. he hold thathe should abstainfora timefromthereception thesacrament: burial. I968: 276). wordsspokenor overheard.a pervasive relentlessness.does he believehimself hold of to that For and the If thefaith? a manwithstands resists Church. again withknowledgeand authority. miraculouspower. its conditions in was a continuous itself Confession network. of intoand grewon thepractice confession. no one corrupt truth ourfaith faithless 17 in literature (Baker 1972: andagain that 41). In spite of its profound havenotyetstudiedtheroleofprivate confession of anthropologists religion historical importance. baptism. in 15 By beingauthorised.Of coursewitnesses eventitself occurred'(Finucane the whatyear. for at by Eucharist leastat Easter:unlessithappenthat thecounselofhisown priest some reasonable of otherwise let cause. Lord.was through but in and later. summas. of of doctrine theCatholic modernmeaning(theverbalformulation denialor doubtof anydefined of controversies the sixteenth century (Chenu Church) only in the course of the methodological 20 I956: 264). and the privationand Antoninesequence of earlylife.probationand temptation.place and in whose presence wonderful 1977: 53). was reproduced renunciation.
H. in thatthereaderor listener away fromthesensory occurrenceand toward its meaning. foundthemselves culturally in unfamiliar missionaries the 22 WhenChristian territory. the first woman. from woundin Adam's side mankind's mother after flesh. and theonlymonastic onlytypeof religious availablein thecountries code was the Rule of St Benedict'. In I 63 I a Franciscan a Dominicanfrom Spanishzone ofManila travelled and the from (illegally. . the influence the spiritual. not finest But highest fulfilment their of aspirations. .nevertheless perfectly integrated theirsensorysubstance. it different for Catholicprayers thedead. is weak as a sensoryimpression. 25 The way in which representations occurrenceswere transformed of into meanings by Christiantheologyis analysedby Auerbachin his classic studyof representations realityin of summed up in this early passage: 'The total contentof the sacred Westernliterature-briefly was placed in an exegeticcontextwhich oftenremovedthe thingtold veryfarfromits writings was forcedto turnhis attention sensorybase. vows by whichtheyweresetapart orders. and all one's interest is towardthecontextof meanings. was born. liturgical life concerned was monastic. the and functions symbols(I use 'symbols'hereloosely of differentiate carefully referential indexical as a short-hand) to betweentalking aboutsymbolsand talking and. This implied the danger that the visual elementof the of occurrences Let mightsuccumbunderthedensetexture meanings. that.the Church (blood and water are sacramental symbols)-then the sensoryoccurrence pales beforethe power of the figural meaning. problem of and of identifying theoretical 'religion'becamea matter considerable difficulty practical importin the for was ance. 24 The results equating of thesetwo discursive levelsseemto be connected Geertz'sambiguous to conceptionof symbol discussedearlier.whichplaguedtheeastern and missionsfora century more' (Chadwick I964: 338). as a new religion. .or thatifreligious. as a corollary.so from wound in Christ'ssidewas the born the mother of all men afterthe spirit.What is perceivedby the heareror reader. For an illuminating sketchof the history the conceptand practiceof of in and religious discipline earlyChristian medievalperiodssee LeclercqI957: I29I-302.Crapanzanohas made a similar article C.and L. to their opponents appearedto be merely thejesuits lax. thoughless serious and fraught with problemsand far more limitedin their in conceptionof historical movement.'TheJesuits China contended that reverence ancestors a social.TALAL ASAD 255 (I950: 3) observesthatfromroughly the sixthto thetwelfth 'monasticlifebased on the centuries Rule of St Benedict was everywhere norm and exercisedfromtime to time a paramount the on and apostoliclifeof theWestern Church . During this period the very term'religious' was therefore with the later emergenceof non-monastic reservedfor those living in monasticcommunities. The extension fromtheordinary and simultaneous of transformation the religiousdisciplinesto lay sectionsof society fromthe twelfth century onwards (Chenu I968) contributed the Church's authority to becoming more pervasive.more than before-and so too the articulation the concept and complex and more contradictory of practiceof lay 'religion'. .In comparison. intellectual. So began thequarrelof "the rites". the thePortuguese viewpoint)to Pekingand foundthatto translate word mass. 23 Phasesin thegradualevacuation specificity of from in discourse theeighteenth publicreligious in are century described Gay I970. Meaning order Moroccan on and in society: 'Althoughit is impossible. observedChineseChristians One night and theywentin disguiseto sucha ceremony. thejesuitcatechism of used the character which was the Chinese description the ceremonies ancestor-worship. of tsi. . as a replacement.in which an object's existenceand its representation are as criticism his review in equallyidentified thesymbol's'meaning'. .so that blood and waterflowedout.not from a religious. was hardly not but as the wished the Chinese to regardChristianity. distinguish about theuse ofsymbols'(I98I: 854). I would like to suggest that the problemsfindtheirsource in a failureto . . to treat adequatelytheproblemsraisedby Rosen's workand theworkof theother contributors . as he hungdead on thecross. participating were scandalizedat what theysaw. fromAdam's rib while Adam lay asleep.thetermcame to be used forall who had takenlife-long membersof theChurch(SouthernI970: 2I4). . one examplestandformany: It is a visuallydramatic occurrence thatGod made Eve. Rosen. Geertz. For example. They act. primordial the Eve. Greco-Romanspecimens realistic directed the of presentation are. Geertz. so too is it thata soldierpiercedJesus' side. Anthropologists todayareless consciousof such difficulties of perhapsbecause not much of practical consequencehangson theirdefinitions exoticreligion. But when thesetwo occurrences exegetically are interrelated the in doctrine thatAdam's sleepis a figure Christ's of as the death-sleep. .
makes the more interesting observationthat 'belief is a mental state. Figuralinterpretation. would stress of naive view of thehistorical practice both (cf.and itwas clearto themthatTruthwas notproduceduniversally.But as he is careful and antiquity theMiddle Ages differs completely in to pointout.The latterrepresentation fulfils former technical the (the term.and so with the possibilitiesfor distinctive kinds of religiousexperience.but is confined people who have certain to social institutions and practices'.In theAnglo-Saxon world recent attempts define'science' have not reacheda firm in havebeenformulated and aroundtheworksofPopper.Kuhn. in 26 Cf. we learnsomething visual factuality. The latter close to allegory. As Auerbach goes in on to demonstrate.a groundeddisposition.he said:Therecanbe no religion a swamp' (Brown I98I: I25).essential. "Nulla estreligio on peasants'celebrating three-day in in stagno". thisdoes not mean thatthereis nothing common betweenmedievaland modern views. and by so cubism 'changedthe natureof the relationship betweenmanand reality' a about doingexpressed new relationship (I972: I45). wasfiguram implire)-itis implicit it. a necessary that do to takesan almostdiametrically opposed view.Equally.Harr6(I98I: 82). How do Geertz's phrases about 'the aesthetic cubism's concernto re-define relate suchconcerns? to perspective' 31 The ways in whichtheconceptof 'art'-and therefore thepractice art-has been progresof since classicaltimesis briefly indicatedin the Introduction Collingwood to sively transformed forms representation analysed length Auerbach(I953). that of Bachelard and Canguilhem. in arguments has been to abandon the France. Geertz'ssuggestion on the assumptionthattheremust be a single. My pointis thatboth see century. that betweenthe paintedimage and reality. butthatwhatis commonis differently arranged.whereasGeertzis concernedonly with the I thatany attempt make a sharpdistinction to betweenthetwo is based on a former.he foundthe into a festival withofferings theedgeofa marsh. . in a criticismof Needham. is questionable thecomplementary suggestion inreligion On thislatterpoint thereis massiveevidenceagainstGeertz. 28 Thus Auerbach in writes: 'The view ofreality worksoflate (I953: SSS) expressed theChristian from thatof modernrealism'.Christian view ofreality' (I953: 48-9).since 'to believe' always designates a relationbetweena believerand a propositionand throughit to reality.Musson & RobertsonI969). For by example. when the art-critic Bergerargues. in for In figuralinterpretation representation an event (Adam's sleep) is made explicit the the of by of representation anotherevent (Christ'sdeath) which is its meaning. Breaksin discursive in transformations thenature knowledgesincetheseventeenth of fascinating argument concerning 32 In case some readers are temptedto thinkthatwhat I am talkingabout hereis not 'science' (knowledge)but 'technology'(practical application). 30 Itis startling see 'thescientific summedup thusina lineand a half. One important tendency as at attempt solving what is known in the literature 'the demarcation problem' which is based method.Feyerabend.Thus Needham (I972) has arguedthatbeliefis nowherea distinct nor institution theconductof social life. . Auerbachtellsus. whichthesymbolis substituted theobjectsymbolised.Southwold (I979) for mode of consciousness. the suggestionthat 'art' is a matterof 'effecting an disengagementfrom the whole question of factuality. Auerbach'susage. asserting questionsofbelief relate distinctive in mentalstates.Philosophical to perspective' to consensus.Lakatos.even ifwe confine ourselvesto the a historyof Christianasceticism. Hacking (I975).in his brilliant essay 'The momentof cubism'.and thattheyare relevant any and everysociety.scientific 'dissolves the world's givennessinto a swirl of probabilistic is thatthe scientist hypotheses' as as that there no scopeforexperimentation.is notsynonymous in withsymbolis ism. deliberately manufacturing air of truth all writers semblenceand illusion' would not be takenas a self-evident and artists. Formedieval Christians religionwas not a universalphenomenon:religionwas the site on which universalTruth was produced. antagonism and an which the and permeates early. the 27 When thefifth-century bishop ofJavolsspreadChristianity theAuvergne. indeedthewhole. Christian theory thelaterMiddle Ages invested representations everyday of life with characteristic figuralmeanings.256 TALAL ASAD They do notknow theantagonism betweensensory appearance meaning. Douglas (I975: 76): 'The person withoutreligionwould be the person contentto do withoutexplanations certain of kinds. 29 The assumption mentalstatecharacteristic all religions been of has that'belief'is a distinctive thesubjectof recent discussion. For a of are in at (I938).or contentto behave in societywithouta singleunifying principle validating social order'.
directly relevant sucha to project.and how it is to be it by metaphysical studied. or in technical acts in havingin all instances between what we call practical. 37 Since Mauss's famousessayon 'Techniquesof thebody'. in a revolution social valuesand has givenbirth scissiparity. much as individuals juxtaposed in society' (I970: 32). Beattie (I964: 202) put it this way: 'Now the chiefdifference for and ritualor "magico-religious" common-sense techniques doing things. (or thesame all-embracing consideration itused to be socially. 38 Foucault'spioneering workon power and knowledgeis. and also the Conclusion to Evans-Pritchard (I965). workprocessor asceticexercise whichwould nototherwise possible.however. Each individual as may.military industrial potentialities) manoeuvre. 39 Dumont has perhapscome nearest to questioning feasibility a universaldefinition the of of thata changein relations entailsa changein whatever related. of politicalinstitutions speculations. and thensurely itself religion and we Of some important visiblechangeswe areaware.But I would . or elsepurport alter to actions. Once itbecamean individual it affair. (2) technical actions.This appliesalso to speechtechniques. in littleinterest culturally acquired techniquesof the body. so faras theyare in what theyenablethatis relevant for among thepre-conditions producing legal.and the implications thisfactforcross-cultural conceptionsof religion. In any technical of may be called technical activity adequate statement thepurposeof any a act But ritual particular or seriesofactsconstitutes itself sufficient by actsdiffer from explanation. a Catholic. the finalchapter Evans-Pritchard in (i956). lostitsall-embracing capacity and became one among otherapparently of equal considerations.Itis notwhatthey be meanbut here.is focused thebodyas a medium on and not as a medium of practicaldiscipline.etc. religion (in and in practice leastin manyenvironments situations). (3) expressive of whicheither aboutthestate theworldas itis. simplysaysomething means'.If is religion:'I shalltakeforgranted has withsome other our influences play) at throughout history religion developed(to a largeextent.Everyoneknows that of say a of of was formerly matter thegroupand has becomea matter theindividual principle.TALAL ASAD 257 of are 'science' and 'technology' together basic to the structure modern lives.to an autonomousworld as by will have changedin theprocess. whose workis directly concerned with'cultureand symbolism'will not my view anthropologists be able to appreciatethe fullimplications thispoint unless theybegin to take the problemof of transformations historical seriously. 3 Vygotsky I978: 58-9. In aesthetic. whichthepoliticalwas thefirst born. itwere. heartbeat. It will be clearwherereligionfits into thisscheme. of course.religious. Particulardisciplinesof the body (culturallyacquired physical a makeitpossibleto perform particular kindofdance. arenotawareofthechange as in theverynature religion livedby anygivenindividual.thesame personwill switchto a different configuration values in whichautonomous values (religious.but. determined meansforachievingsocial merelyculturally 'symbols'. Some valuable work is containedin BlackingI977 andPolhemusI978. some expressive symbolicelement them'(I952: I43).of course.) are seemingly are juxtaposed.recognise religion philosophy). on thelevelofsocial consensusor as Yet of ideology.and perhapsevenwill. there has been.boilingan egg. untilveryrecently. Leach (I976: 9) has includedthe distinction More recently. effects.theproposition notsucha commonplace as changeis correlated medievalreligion was a greatcloak-I am thinking the thepreviousone. Most ofthiswork. ways of doing them lies basicallyin thepresenceor absenceof an institutionalised symbolicelementin what is done'. individual and and that'religion'in anybutthemostvacuous senseis not. 3 3 A similar criticism made by Wood (I98I) ofHorton. processand so on.I submit. collective. political. at and But ifwe go on and assertthatthis of is withthebirth themodernState. physicalstateof the world out there-digging a hole in the ground. Let us go a little further: of MantleofOur Lady ofMercy. was Cf.Techniques of the body are not of communication.theyare also essential practical and psychologicalobjectives. withina tripartite scheme: 'We can threeaspectsof human behaviour:(I) natural activities thehuman usefully distinguish biological of whichserveto alter metabolic the body-breathing. educational. Dumont has a subtle sense of the mutationof religionin modernWestern of history. 36 One of the earliestformulations of this distinction modern social anthropologywas in Radcliffe-Brown's-asforexamplein thispassage (I939): 'The verycommontendency look for to of of of theexplanation ritualactionsin their purposeis theresult a falseassimilation themto what an acts.political.
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