Saturday, January 10, 2015

Quasi-anthropologist at your service!

Went last night to the opening of a show of grandiose photographs of the tattered awnings of Shanghai's vanishing slums - enough said about that. But it was a chance to chat with some young anthropologists from western universities (one had been conscripted to write the essay for the exhibition catalog) and that was great fun. It really seems to be anthropologists that I resonate with best on religion.

But still, what can I say to them? That I'm a recovering, if not perhaps entirely repentant, philosopher of religion - I don't think that philosophical worldviews are what religions are, how they work, or why they take the forms they do. That I'm part of a generation of American religious studies scholars who think "religion" a suspect category? (Anthropology went through its own spasms of disciplinary self-loathing somewhat before, and in part inspiring, the religious studies one.) But those are still theoretical claims, made in the general terms of philosophy! It seemed a stretch to say, as one volunteered for me, that I'm in fact doing anthropological research here right now, my "field site" religious studies in China - but that might be the least bad explanation!

It was fun to find that the adventure of Belief Systems, and especially its group collage method, could serve as an alternative model of how religious practices and even texts emerge. (I hadn't thought of that before.) Together with my internet recipe model of lived religion it apparently made for a quite fascinating alternative theory of religion! The student from UVA whom I treated to this extemporization described it as the best discussion she'd ever had about religion; I credit the rather nice wine (the exhibition sponsor was French).

No comments: