Monday, November 16, 2015


In "Theorizing Religion" today a lot of things came together in a quite lovely way. The readings were two responses to Eliade on sacred space, and on Aboriginal Australia: Sam Gill's "Territory" (from Critical Terms for Religious Studies) and Tomoko Masuzawa's "Dreams Adrift" (from In Search of Dreamtime). I started the class by saying "from here on, it's all dialogue - dialogue between the various theorists we read, and between theorists and the worlds of religious practice." Gill's and Masuzawa's pieces each construct dialogues of their own - Gill rehearsing Jonathan Z. Smith's critique of Eliade, Masuzawa placing alongside Eliade's Australian Religions a contemporary study of Walbiri women's iconography by Nancy Munn - and/but the way they do demonstrate different dialogisms of their own.

The discussion build on our reading of Eliade last week, but also drew in Ritual and its Consequences, which we read before that, and Durkheim, who came before that. Later many of our other authors came in, from Saba Mahmood to William James, to Ludwig Feuerbach to Meredith McGuire. Delightful!

The spine of the discussion I offered, with four words on the board, linked and divided by a wavy line:





CENTERS refers to Eliade's idea that human beings cannot live in the "chaos of relativity and homogeneity," requiring breaks in the horizontal continuity of life in order to have orientation and find meaning. BOUNDARIES names Smith's response, that spaces are important in religion but the vertical imperative is a cryptotheological assumption foreign to traditions such as the Aboriginal; meaning is made by humans setting and resetting boundaries. JOURNEYS refers to Gill's critique of Smith's view of religion as mapping as still wedded to too static a conception of space, containers as if seen from above (the god's eye view still a holdover from monotheism): what if we understood space (and religion, and meaning) in terms of the multiple overlapping trajectories of bodies and the stories told around them? DJUGURBA, finally, refers to Munn's discovery that Walbiri women's stories are accessed not in "sacred" spaces but in the midst of the everyday; the "dreamtime" is the stories is the stories' telling. Lots to discuss here, from the role and responsibility of the scholar of religion to the drama of finding meaning in a pluralistic world.

Gill and Masuzawa's ways of bringing the figures they discuss together are interesting to consider, too. Gill weaves a number of threads together in his text, like the trajectories of different Aboriginal peoples sharing land they traverse in different ways. It's a little utopian to suggest that this sharing involves no conflics, but for him it's enough to demonstrate that sharing generates no real cognitive dissonance in the reader. Masuzawa commends the way Munn, while observing on the coexistence of Walbiri women's and men's stories (both say the women's aren't as sacred as the men's), doesn't claim to offer a unified view of their symbiosis. Masuzawa's naming it seems a little more contrived.

Balagangadhara, a different kind of journey-theorist, is next!

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