Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2015

Religion and Modernity

Lecturer: Professor Matthew Engelke,
Department of Anthropology,
London School of Economics, UK

Main disciplines: Anthropology,
Sociology of Religion

Dates: 20 - 24 July 2015
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 25 participants


Objectives
The summer school course introduces students to some of the key concepts, themes, and debates in the anthropology of religion. Most of the readings are drawn from classic and contemporary studies in the discipline; we also consider some signal contributions from sociology, linguistics, philosophy, the history of religions, theology, and psychoanalysis. Topics to be covered include: the relationship between science and religion; conceptions of the sacred and secularity; the problem of belief; ritual action; “lived religion;” religious language; piety; power; fetishism; and sacrifice (blood and otherwise). These are approached through case studies of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism—“world religions”—as well as so-called traditional or tribal religions, and secular humanism, too. Throughout the lectures, special attention will be given to the ways in which religion, as a category and concept, gets understood in relation to modernity (as a category and concept).

 

COURSE OUTLINE

Monday 20 July

Lecture 1: Categories
In the first lecture we consider Geertz’s classic definition of religion in relation to broader concerns with the ways in which “religion” gets differentiated after the Enlightenment. At least for some. And thus science versus religion, a “debate” which Bruno Latour, among a few others, finds rather stale and misleading.

Readings:

  • Latour, Bruno. 2010. “Thou shall not freeze-frame: Or how not to misunderstand the science and religion debate,” in On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods. Durham: Duke University Press. Pp. 99-123. (Also available in Proctor, James [ed]. 2005. Science, Religion, and the Human Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press)
  • Geertz, Clifford. 1973. Religion as a Cultural System. In The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. Pp. 87-125.
  • Asad, Talal. 1993. The Construction of Religion as an Anthropological Category. In Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and reasons of power in Christianity and Islam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Pp. 27-54.


Lecture 2: Classifications
We could go on for weeks with various definitions of religion, before and after Geertz (though mostly from before). We won’t, but Durkheim’s deserves attention, too, in part because of the ways in which his emphasis on the sacred has become central to modern understandings. Here we begin to turn to some case studies, too; our first concerns Orthodox Jewish approaches to Hebrew.

Readings:

  • Durkheim, Emile. 1915 [1912]. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Translated by Joseph Ward Swain. London: Allen & Unwin. [Read Introduction, Section 1 (pp. 13-21); Book 1, Sections 3 &4 (pp. 51-63); Book 3, Section 5, Subsection 4 (pp. 455-461].
  • Fader, Ayala. 2009. “Making English Jewish.” In Mitzvah Girls: Bringing up the next generation of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Pp. 87-117.
  • Glinert, Lewis and Yosseph Shilhav. 1991. Holy Land, Holy Language: A study of ultraorthodox Jewish ideology. Language in Society 20(1): 59-86.


Tuesday 21 July

Lecture 3: Convictions
By Tuesday we’ll be well acquainted with the idea that (modern) religion means belief. In this first lecture we trace the genealogy of this understanding yet further, and consider it in relation to what is — I believe — a broader issue, the matter of conviction.

Readings:

  • Lopez, Donald S., Jr. 1998. Belief. In Critical Terms for Religious Studies, edited by Mark C. Taylor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Pp. 21-35.
  • Hansen, Thomas Blom. 2009. Cool Passion: The Political Theology of Conviction. Vossiuspers UvA no. 326. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press.
  • Pouillon, Jean. 2008 [1979]. Remarks on the Verb “To Believe.” In A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, Michael Lambek, ed. (Second edition) Oxford: Blackwell. Pp. 90-96. 


Lecture 4: Actions
In the fourth lecture we begin with a roundabout approach to considering ritual, first in relation to the idea of actions. “Doing” religion is often understood to mean doing rituals, as if this were to locus of religiosity itself. We discuss this now, but juxtapose it with other ways of thinking about how to understand acts of religion, or, at least, religious acts.

Readings:

  • Bender, Courtney. 2012. Practicing Religions. In The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies, Robert A. Orsi, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 273-295.
  • Mahmood, Saba. 2005. Positive Ethics and Ritual Conventions. In Politics of Piety: The Islamic revival and the feminist subject. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Pp. 118-152
  • Laidlaw, James. 2002. For an Anthropology of Ethics and Freedom. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (n.s.) 8(2): 311-332.


Wednesday 22 July

Lecture 5: Words
Rituals are often wordy, too. Religious language is often not like ordinary language. It does things. (So words can be actions, in a sense.) Malinowski once wrote about this, and his reflections on the magical word provide a good opportunity to consider how such “magicality” functions (as he might have it) in Buddhist mantras.

Readings:

  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1935. An Ethnographic Theory of the Magical Word. In Coral Gardens and their Magic: The language of magic and gardening. (Vol. 2) London: Allen and Unwin. Pp. 213-252.
  • Lopez, Donald S., Jr. 1990. Inscribing the Bodhisattva’s Speech: On “Heart Sūtra’s” mantra. History of Religions 29(4): 351-372.
  • Keane, Webb. 1997. Religious Language. Annual Review of Anthropology 26: 47-71.


Lecture 6: Things
If “modern” religion is all about belief, that would seem to suggest it’s precisely not about things. So in this lecture we ask: is religion immaterial? Why is it that immateriality has become central to its modern formations?

Readings:

  • Engelke, Matthew. 2012. Dangerous Things: One African genealogy. In Things: Religion and the question of materiality, Dick Houtman and Birgit Meyer, eds. New York: Fordham University Press. Pp. 40-61.
  • Engelke, Matthew. 2012. Material Religion. In The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies, Robert A. Orsi, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 209-229.
  • Pietz, William. 1985. The Problem of the Fetish, I. Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 9: 5-17. (See also the second and third parts of this work, in Res 13 [1987] and Res 16 [1988].)


Thursday 23 July

Lecture 7: Authorities
By Thursday we’ll have heard a lot about how, in certain Enlightenment and liberal framings, religion is bad because religion is bondage. Power over people that obscures their true interests and desires. In today’s first lecture, we consider this narrative in relation to broader considerations of how to understand conceptions of “authority.”

Readings:

  • Kopytoff, Igor. 1971. Ancestors as Elders in Africa. Africa 41(1): 129-142.
  • Agrama, Hussein Ali. 2010. Ethics, Tradition, Authority: Toward an anthropology of the fatwa. American Ethnologist 37(1): 2-18.
  • Bloch, Maurice. 1974. Symbols, Song, Dance, and Features of Articulation: Is religion an extreme form of traditional authority? European Journal of Sociology 15(1): 54-81.


Lecture 8: Relations
Where are you spirits? We’ll have heard this question in an earlier lecture, and consider it here with respect to the ways in which religion indexes certain types of relations, not least exchanges. Of all such exchanges, sacrifice is one of the most important and we address it this afternoon via old women in Brazil and reindeer sausages in Siberia.

Readings:

  • Hubert, Henri and Marcel Mauss. 1964. Sacrifice: Its nature and function. Translated by W.D. Halls. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Read the third chapter and the conclusion.) 
  • Mayblin, Maya. 2014. The Untold Sacrifice: The monotony and incompleteness of self-sacrifice in northeast Brazil. Ethnos 79(3): 342-364.
  • Willerslev, Rane. 2009. The Optimal Sacrifice: A study of voluntary death among the Siberian Chuckchi. American Ethnologist 36(4): 693-704.


Friday 24 July

Lecture 9: Times
Is this a disenchanted time, a secular age? If so, in what ways? By now we certainly will have heard a variety of implicit and explicit answers in the texts under consideration. Here we address the questions in relation to more general ones of time and temporality.

Readings:

  • Weber, Max. Science as a Vocation. In From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp. 129-156.
  • Engelke, Matthew. 2013. The Semiotics of Relevance: Campaigning to Culture. In God’s Agents: Biblical Publicity in Contemporary England. Berkeley: University of California Press. Pp. 64-97.
  • Taylor, Charles. 2007. The Immanent Frame. In A Secular Age. Cambridge: Belknap Press for Harvard University Press. Read the first six sections, pp. 539-574.


Lecture 10: Critiques
We end the course by returning to our initial discussions of religion and modernity vis-à-vis the scientific and the secular. There are many ways to do so, we focus on three that have been extremely influential: those of Freud, Nietzsche, and Milbank. They are each quite different. To synch them up, we also consider the “awkward relationship” between anthropology and theology.

Readings:

  • Freud, Sigmund. 1961 [1928]. The Future of an Illusion. Translated by W.D. Robson-Scott. Revised and edited by James Strachey. Garden City: Anchor Books. (Read at least chapter VI, but feel free to read more.)
  • Milbank, John. 2006 [1990]. Introduction. In Theology and Social Theory: Beyond secular reason. (Second edition) Oxford: Blackwell. Pp. 1-6. (Further reading might include the chapter, Policing the Sublime, Pp. 101-144.)
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1966 [1886]. What is Religious. In Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Translated by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage. Pp. 59-76.
  • Robbins, Joel. 2006. Anthropology and Theology: An awkward relationship? Anthropological Quarterly 79(2): 285-294.

 

COMPLETE READING LIST

  • Agrama, Hussein Ali. 2010. “Ethics, Tradition, Authority: Toward an anthropology of the fatwa.” American Ethnologist 37(1): 2-18.
  • Asad, Talal. 1993. The Construction of Religion as an Anthropological Category. In Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and reasons of power in Christianity and Islam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Pp. 27-54.
  • Bender, Courtney. 2012. Practicing Religions. In The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies, Robert A. Orsi, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 273-295.
  • Bloch, Maurice. 1974. “Symbols, Song, Dance, and Features of Articulation: Is religion an extreme form of traditional authority?” European Journal of Sociology 15(1): 54-81.
  • Durkheim, Emile. 1915 [1912]. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Translated by Joseph Ward Swain. London: Allen & Unwin. [Read Introduction, Section 1 (pp. 13-21); Book 1, Sections 3 &4 (pp. 51-63); Book 3, Section 5, Subsection 4 (pp. 455-461].
  • Engelke, Matthew. 2012. Dangerous Things: One African genealogy. In Things: Religion and the question of materiality, Dick Houtman and Birgit Meyer, eds. New York: Fordham University Press. Pp. 40-61.
  • Engelke, Matthew. 2012. Material Religion. In The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies, Robert A. Orsi, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 209-229.
  • Engelke, Matthew. 2013. The Semiotics of Relevance: Campaigning to Culture. In God’s Agents: Biblical Publicity in Contemporary England. Berkeley: University of California Press. Pp. 64-97.
  • Fader, Ayala. 2009. “Making English Jewish.” In Mitzvah Girls: Bringing up the next generation of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Pp. 87-117.
  • Freud, Sigmund. 1961 [1928]. The Future of an Illusion. Translated by W.D. Robson-Scott. Revised and edited by James Strachey. Garden City: Anchor Books. (Read at least chapter VI, but feel free to read more.)
  • Geertz, Clifford. 1973. Religion as a Cultural System. In The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. Pp. 87-125.
  • Glinert, Lewis and Yosseph Shilhav. 1991. “Holy Land, Holy Language: A study of ultraorthodox Jewish ideology.” Language in Society 20(1): 59-86.
  • Hansen, Thomas Blom. 2009. Cool Passion: The Political Theology of Conviction. Vossiuspers UvA no. 326. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press.
  • Hubert, Henri and Marcel Mauss. 1964. Sacrifice: Its nature and function. Translated by W.D. Halls. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Read the third chapter and the conclusion.) 
  • Keane, Webb. 1997. “Religious Language.” Annual Review of Anthropology 26: 47-71.
  • Kopytoff, Igor. 1971. “Ancestors as Elders in Africa.” Africa 41(1): 129-142.
  • Laidlaw, James. 2002. “For an Anthropology of Ethics and Freedom.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (n.s.) 8(2): 311-332.
  • Latour, Bruno. 2010. “Thou shall not freeze-frame: Or how not to misunderstand the science and religion debate,” in On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods. Durham: Duke University Press. Pp. 99-123. (Also available in Proctor, James [ed]. 2005. Science, Religion, and the Human Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press)
  • Lopez, Donald S., Jr. 1990. Inscribing the Bodhisattva’s Speech: “On ‘Heart Sūtra’s’ mantra.” History of Religions 29(4): 351-372.
  • Lopez, Donald S., Jr. 1998. Belief. In Critical Terms for Religious Studies, edited by Mark C. Taylor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Pp. 21-35.
  • Mahmood, Saba. 2005. Positive Ethics and Ritual Conventions. In Politics of Piety: The Islamic revival and the feminist subject. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Pp. 118-152
  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1935. An Ethnographic Theory of the Magical Word. In Coral Gardens and their Magic: The language of magic and gardening. (Vol. 2) London: Allen and Unwin. Pp. 213-252.
  • Mayblin, Maya. 2014. “The Untold Sacrifice: The monotony and incompleteness of self-sacrifice in northeast Brazil.” Ethnos 79(3): 342-364.
  • Milbank, John. 2006 [1990]. Introduction. In Theology and Social Theory: Beyond secular reason. (Second edition) Oxford: Blackwell. Pp. 1-6. (Further reading might include the chapter, Policing the Sublime, Pp. 101-144.)
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1966 [1886]. What is Religious. In Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Translated by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage. Pp. 59-76. (Note: the PDF version supplied is not the Kaufmann edition)
  • Pietz, William. 1985. “The Problem of the Fetish,” Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 9: 5-17. (See also the second and third parts of this work, in Res 13 [1987] and Res 16 [1988].)
  • Pouillon, Jean. 2008 [1979]. Remarks on the Verb “To Believe.” In A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, Michael Lambek, ed. (Second edition) Oxford: Blackwell. Pp. 90-96. 
  • Robbins, Joel. 2006. “Anthropology and Theology: An awkward relationship?” Anthropological Quarterly 79(2): 285-294.
  • Taylor, Charles. 2007. The Immanent Frame. In A Secular Age. Cambridge: Belknap Press for Harvard University Press. Read the first six sections, pp. 539-574.
  • Weber, Max. Science as a Vocation. In From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp. 129-156.
  • Willerslev, Rane. 2009. “The Optimal Sacrifice: A study of voluntary death among the Siberian Chuckchi.” American Ethnologist 36(4): 693-704.

 

The lecturer
Matthew Engelke is a Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he also serves as a member of the School’s Board of Trustees. He is the author of A Problem of Presence: Beyond Scripture in an African Church, which won the 2008 Geertz Prize for Anthropology of Religion and the 2009 Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing, and God’s Agents: Biblical Publicity in Contemporary England. He is co-editor, most recently, of Global Christianity, Global Critique (with Joel Robbins). He has run Prickly Paradigm Press with Marshall Sahlins since 2002, and was editor of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute from 2010-2013.

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Published Nov. 4, 2014 2:19 PM - Last modified Aug. 14, 2017 1:10 PM