Jodi Shaw theorizes the sacred in South Indian Hindu temples by maneuvering affect theory and her current ethnographic work in Cidambaram into dialogue. Shaw directs our attention to the pre-verbal and extra-linguistic elements of temple encounters in order to shape a sense of the sacred as “visceral conversations.”
Raquel Romberg provides an in depth review of magic and mimesis from an anthropological perspective. Drawing on her own exhaustive research into Afro-Latin rituals and Taussig’s “first and second contact”, Romberg turns her post into a reflexive project: a fourth contact that acts as an embodied retelling with its own ethnographic and spiritual ‘power’.
Edith Turner offers an excerpt from the preface of her book, Communitas: The Anthropology of Collective Joy. In the excerpt, she recounts an incident while doing fieldwork among whale hunters in Alaska when a moment of “collective effervescence” was generated by the community in an effort to influence environmental conditions to better support their whale hunting activities.
Jean-Pierre Warnier, reporting from Paris, offers some reflections on Charlie Hebdo and the burgeoning Je Suis Charlie movement. David Morgan builds on Warnier’s comments by considering the humble pencil as means and motive of the events in Paris. What both bring to the forefront is the role that materiality, and, particularly, material religion, play in this confrontation with and affirmation of the democratic process.
Mikael Aktor reviews the panel he co-organised on Aniconism at the 2015 IAHR World Conference in Erfurt, Germany.
Anicionic objects from different religious traditions together form a broad category of religious material sources. In fact, it seems both too broad and incoherent. It includes clearly recognizable depictions of wheels, fish, phalli, unmanufactured objects and elements in the natural environment such as unwrought stones, trees, rivers and mountains, fashioned objects, such as stelai and logs, as well as empty spaces, such as vacant seats, and empty rooms. While all of these objects are described as ‘aniconic’ at least in some religious traditions, they differ dramatically in their religious agency and manner of mediating divine presence. A South Asian river can be a Hindu goddess, while it is hardly an image of her. Similarly, a black meteorite could be described as Cybele the mother goddess, yet it does not seem to articulate a vision of the divinity’s imagined appearance. At the same time, a river and a stone have markedly different physical and visual relations to their viewers and worshippers as well as the deities to which they are linked. In order to explore the range of aniconism, Mikael Aktor and Milette Gaifman organised a panel at the 21st World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR)to discuss these questions.
Ludwig Feuerbach, the 19th century philosopher and theologian, discusses the modern idea of the soul and immortality in this excerpt from his 1830 book, Thoughts on Death and Immortality. Feuerbach was the original “materialist” in that he felt human existence to be subsumed in the larger existence of nature and society. Philosophical anthropology, the philosophy of the existence and experience of personhood, remained a key theme across all of his work. Feuerbach thought that modern Christianity’s notion of the soul and its immortality was errant. His attempt to ground human existence in the natural world could be seen as one of the earliest attempts to overcome the mind-body dualism that had become entrenched in European religion, through Christianity, and European philosophy, through Descartes. Given Feuerbach’s perspective, a focus on materiality and environment cannot be separate from a philosophical anthropology that supports or denies their significance.
In this theoretically rich piece, Jean-Pierre Warnier discusses the entanglement of ‘things’ and their representations.In most religious traditions, this topic plays an important historical role in
Ann Taves presents a rich theoretical work on religious objects. Reviewing Max Weber’s ideas about charisma, J.J. Gibson’s ecological psychology, and a range of other theorists too numerous to mention, Taves produces a novel account, deeply informed by cognitive science, regarding the fascinating roles objects have played in religious traditions.