Saturday, March 12, 2016


The charmingly quixotic colloquium "Michel de Certeau: Le Voyage de l'Oeuvre" is over, thirty-five fifteen-minute talks in three languages, from all different disciplines and experiences. That de Certeau's thought was wide- and far-ranging was more than borne out by the variety!

I was part of the final panel, the non-indoeuropéen, but that wasn't the first oddity of naming. Nor was the fact that the second germanique panel yesterday consisted of a Dutch, a Danish and a Flemish presenter (the first speaker defused it by saying he'd be speaking in another "Germanic" language - English!). In a way the deeper weirdness was that the conference was arranged in this linguistic way at all (before our panel was one with the cumbersome name Domaine espagnol (Amérique latine surtout) et Portugais (Brésil seulement), but the purpose was to suggest influence and inspiration of de Certeau's work around the world. Our panel (which was originally named turc, chinois et japonais) included a Japanese scholar of French mysticism, a Chinese-born American professor of French, a Dutch Jesuit sinologist, a Turkish historian of science, a Japanese American anti-orientalist historian of Japan, and me. Our presider, a French Jesuit sinologist, suggested our title really referred obliquely to lands which had as yet been barely touched by Michel de Certeau's work, les sauvages!

I justified my presence by recounting how I'd met the organizer in China, where I'd spent a year testing my pieties. My talk was about the conversation which might happen (though it has not yet happened) between American "lived religion" and de Certeau, whose L'invention du quotidien (The practice of everyday life) seems an obvious source - especially when you take into account de Certeau's many writings about religion - with a "pivot to Asia" at the end. This was also a way to avoid concluding that Americans might not jibe with de Certeau because of limitations to his horizon: instead I mused about what Chinese religious phenomena the different things made illuminate, before suggesting that the experience of Christian churches in Asia might help us see beyond both the mindset of European Christendom and American views of "religion." Maybe you'll hear more about this... 

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